Ronan’s Rants: A short history of same-sex marriage and myths of history

Same sex marriage, Religion and Myths of History

We are coming up to a vote on marriage equality which is going to shape how Irish society functions for decades to come. It may well seem a foregone conclusion. But some of the basic issues of history surrounding this debate need to be clarified. One of the arguments which comes up over and over is that marriage is being ‘redefined’ and represents a complete break with the past. In this conception of history, heterosexual, romantic monogamous marriage always existed, and we are straying away from that. But did it always exist?
Marriage has been redefined at multiple points in history. Slaves, the poor, interracial and other couples could not legally wed in various periods until legislation did away with these different rules. Indeed, the sort of affection and ‘love’ people might find in modern marriages was not always a given. Many attitudes of the pre-modern world advocated discipline within a marriage. Plutarch regarded it as ‘disgraceful’ to kiss one’s wife in public, while later Christian theologians were against intimacy between husband and wife as it weakened their devotion to god. Many marriages of this era had more to do with socioeconomic advancement and alliances than with love.
Same sex marriage of sorts –either formal or more informally – have existed at many times in history: Some Roman Emperors like Hadrian probably enjoyed same sex marriages, while ladies amongst the Igbo people of Nigeria had ‘female husbands’. The Chinese, Indians, as well as Mesopotamian and possibly ancient Egyptian monarchs (astounding when one thinks of the attitudes existing in those regions now.) also practised forms of same-sex marriages and/or relationships. There have even been claims that the early Christian church itself was in practice tolerant of same sex marriage, at least early on. Only in the late Roman and Byzantine Empire was same-sex marriage outlawed, while the medieval period saw its total stigmatisation, though these arguments are quite contentious.
But this is not to advertise some wishy-washy version of an LGBT-tolerant past utopia which we should follow to the letter today either. Merely that history is a lot more complicated (and, at times, alien) than either side might care to admit. Precedent is not always the best thing to work off of. Basic studies of historical texts, and anthropological examination of tribal groups worldwide show a wide number of possible outcomes a society might choose to take. The truth was, marriage and the family as an institution has varied based on geography and period in history, and as alluded to above, at times it was thoroughly ghastly by today’s standards.
Many heterosexual marriages in medieval Western Europe were arranged almost from birth, as they are in modern South Asia. Concubinage has been quite acceptable for large sections of the world’s inhabitants for long periods, (slaveowning Southern American states, Europe, The Medieval Islamic Caliphates, post-Columbus South America, etc. –) along with more general polygamy, (China, The Islamic world, etc.) polyandry, (pre-Islamic Mecca) incest (Egypt) and varying other combinations of relationships like 19th-century common-law marriage. It was only in the late 19th century that the more modern idea of romantic love reached the majority of the population, and then only in America and Europe.
Pre-marital sex was very common in ancient Ireland, while Homosexuality probably wasn’t that seriously discriminated against even when the contemporary law tracts bothered to mention it. The structure of the family itself changed repeatedly, from nuclear to extended families and back again, depending on a host of social factors.
It seems to be a basic human psychological impulse to see the past as a decay away from a prior golden age. But in most cases this is not in line with reality. And marriage is no exception. The idea of a primordial, ‘since time immemorial’ ‘natural’ type of monogamous heterosexual romantic marriage is simply not in line with basic historical, anthropological or human facts, even in the most conservative of societies, no matter their self-image.
Anyway, Religions need to adapt themselves to the times they live in. They perform sterling services, especially when ostensibly ‘secular’ (bearing in mind that we are talking in incredibly loose terms) society/government basically fails to provide basic services – for instance the excellent work of brother Kevin down in the Capuchin day centre, which provides meals and medical care for Dublin’s (shamefully) growing homeless population.
They act as the brakes when societies want to take a leap too far – that’s good, if, say, people want to make a massive and (as it turned out for most countries) bad social transformation like Communism without properly examining it in the first place. But the brake system itself cannot determine everything a society does, especially when the evidence generally does not support the dire consequences many same sex marriage opponents maintain.
Any set of rules which is applied to different groups of people must have clear, logical, and evidence-based reasons. This is not to ignore that some feel real concern over the impact of same-sex marriage on children and free speech amongst other things. These issues are for a different article.
The issue that I am concerned with is that I don’t think that many or at least some of the arguments against same sex marriage come down to evidence. They come down to emotion, and the usual combination of ‘Whoaaahh there’ that accompanies any social change, as well as insecurity and a quiet, bizaare sense of ‘infection’ by an ‘other’, if I can put this in very crude terms. The Bible and many Catholic teachings are frequently being used for – or inspiring – this.
But religions have changed their minds many times in history. For instance, priests used not to be celibate, Popes like Leo IX led troops in battle, while in the centuries after his death, the works of Galileo Galilei noting that the Earth moved around the sun were slowly acknowledged, and slavery was both permissible to the early church and later opposed by it.
Change in and of itself is not something always to be feared, or necessarily that unusual in the Christian tradition. This is not altering a core institution unnaturally due to the long-spun argument of political over-correctness. Rather, this is the standard process of the malleable tradition of marriage which has undergone a constant process of redefinition based on current data about what satisfies happiness, equanimity and welfare for all people.


Eclipses that changed history, My magazine articles for Astronomy Ireland.

Eclipses that changed history
The battle of the Halys river: an eclipse brings
warring people to peace.
Sometimes ancient people could interpret positive things out of what were for them unexplained phenomena. According to the famed Greek historian Herodutus, around the late 7th to early 6th century BC a band of Scythian nomads had ended up as mercenaries in the court of the Median King Cyaxeres, who had just conquered modern day Iraq. Seeing them as potential trainers for his army of horse-archers, he used the Scythians to train some of his youths in the use of the horse and bow. The Scythians also employed themselves in hunting and bringing home game to the King. But they were unsuccessful one day. Cyaxeres, who was as short-tempered as he was angry insulted them, upbraiding them for their failure. The Scythians in turn fumed over this. As a form of revenge, they decided to chop up one of the Median youths they were training, and served him to the King as game. The King, none the wiser, proceeded to eat the flesh of one of his own men.
The Scythians fled to Alyattes, the King of Lydia in modern day Turkey, who took them in and refused to hand them over to a vengeful Cyaxeres who had realised what happened. The Median King, ever the hot-head, responded by going to war with the Lydians for the next five years. The two sides inflicted and suffered many defeats on one another, though the fighting seems to have been indecisive. In the sixth year, the two nations armies met again at the river Halys, though by now neither side was that pushed about the war since it was evident the whole thing had stalemated.
As the battle got going, suddenly the day went dark and the sun was covered in an apparent Solar eclipse. The Medians and Lydians, seeing this, were both anxious to make peace, presumably worrying about divine intervention.
Peace was made in the standard traditional way with the Kings forming a marriage alliance and by cutting their respective arms and sucking each other’s blood.
Herodotus tells us that a Greek, Thales the Milesian had predicted the Eclipse. Thales was also among the first philosophers to discuss the possibility of non-mythological causes for natural phenomena – in other words, he helped underpin the development of scientific method.
This is very significant because this is one of the first accounts of a solar eclipse being predicted in advance, though the precise methods which Thales used are unknown. It is possible he borrowed his methods from the Chaldeans or Babylonians, and probably only knew the year, not the exact date it would fall on, partly because of issues with trying to sync it with the Greek calendar. There is some dispute over the exact solar eclipse Herodotus was referring to. Many historians and scientists have suggested that this was the solar eclipses of 21 September 581 or 16 March 581, or was possibly even a lunar eclipse, though 28 May 585 BC seems to be the most precise time.
Ultimately, Alyattes died and was replaced by his son, Croesus, who soon went to war with the Persian Empire who had replaced the Medes.
This time, Thales the Milesian accompanied Croesus on his campaign to the Halys river, and even helped his army cross it. But he could not help Croesus being defeated when Cyrus the Persian leader took him by surprise next spring. He barely avoided being burnt alive, saying to the sympathetic Persian leader:
‘In peace, Sons bury their Fathers, in war Fathers bury their Sons’.
It was up to subsequent generations to relearn this lesson over and over.
Eclipse 2: Lawrence of Arabia
We all know Lawrence of Arabia from David Lean’s famous 1962 film. A famed historical figure, Lawrence helped organise the rebellion of some of the Arab tribes against the Ottoman Empire during World War 1. And one such lunar eclipse played a role in the decisive campaign by Lawrence of Arabia around Aqaba, in July 1917.
Lawrence had just helped organise an epic 180-mile trek across the Nefud desert. After this, he had linked up with the feared Auda ibu Tayi, leader of the Howeitat clan, who as legend had it had been married 28 times, wounded thirteen times, slain 75 men with his own hand and did not even bother counting Turks.
Then they set off to attack Aqaba from the landward side. They had had to balance off countless blood feuds of their own troops, bribe local tribes to avoid being harassed, and fight a major battle at the end of this.
They ambushed a Turkish resupply column in a major battle at Abu al Lasan nearby, then marched on to Aqaba, which would cut off the Turks supply lines to Medina and enable them to bring in crucial weapons supplies. But on the way they came across a Turkish military post at a place called Kethira. This post commanded the entire valley nearby – it was a strong place which would be very costly in men to take, but they had to pass through it to get to Aqaba. Lawrence’s troops were low on supplies, and this comes through in his personal account of the events, Seven Pillars of wisdom. Worse, there was a full moon for the next few nights. Convincing the booty-obsessed fractious nomadic Bedouin to fight for any unified purpose for any length of time was always difficult. Getting them to assault a heavily fortified position in the middle of a bright full moon which would make them visible was nigh on impossible. Yet Lawrence noted something in his diary. A total Lunar eclipse was due on the 4th-5th of July 1917. This was a partial ‘Reddened’ eclipse, or ‘Bloodred’ moon.
The Turks were superstitiously banging on pots and firing into the air to ‘Rescue the threatened satellite’ according to Lawrence. Sure enough, Auda’s men overran the encampment without any losses.
The town of Aqaba fell a few days later to much fanfare. He crossed the Sinai desert all the way to Cairo and showed up in British military headquarters, causing a sensation. Lawrence helped the British and Arabs drive the Ottomans out of the rest of the levant by the end of the war.
So why did the Turks react this way, even in the 20th century? Ottoman astronomy had fallen behind its European counterpart centuries before this and had mostly stagnated, though knowledge of Occidental science was slowly spreading. However astrology was alive and well in the empire. The (frequently snobby) European travellers accounts often reported that the Turks could be quite superstitious, with some even believing that eclipses of the moon were caused by a ‘great dragon’ in the Earth’s crust. This was probably the feared Jawzahr of Middle Eastern legend which periodically swallowed the sun or moon much like its Chinese counterpart. It also required prompt banging on drums and pots to scare away. Bearing in mind the psychological state of the isolated Ottoman garrison after a costly defeat by the Arabs this seems the most likely explanation. So superstition had cost yet another people another battle.
Lawrence’s role in the capture of Aqaba is probably seriously exaggerated, and the Eclipse story must be understood in the context of a greater series of embellished facts which grew up around him as the decades went on. Lawrence wanted the western powers to honour their agreements with the Arab people and respect their territorial boundaries, but he was ignored, eventually dying in a motorcycle accident in May 1935. Future generations are sorry he was not listened to.

Isis and Myths of History: did the Caliphate solve poverty? My new post on the Quillium foundation blog.

One of the myths which underpins ISIS is that it is a replica of the historical Caliphate. That is, it harkens back to the rightly guided Caliphs (successors to the Prophet) in the middle of the 7th century CE and onwards through the Umayyads, Abbassids and the Ottoman Empire till 1921 depending how one defines it.

The new ‘Caliphate’ is vastly different in structure, technology, economics and many other things from its supposed inspiration. But these historical distortions help underpin the myth of a political system which can solve all of mankind’s problems. This helps justify the destruction and death inflicted on all others in Iraq and elsewhere or radicalisation of Muslims here in Britain. This is similar to many European nationalist movements, like the only vaguely historical Nazi vision of an ‘Aryan’ past. So each historical myth about the Caliphate needs to be examined, and if necessary, buried, much like many nationalist’s foundational myths have been.

This includes the ‘No poverty’ argument which is touted by Islamists like Hizb-ut-Tahrir and by many speakers here in the UK in endless debates, lectures, and in the odd Journal.

The story goes like this: During the Rule of the rightly guided Caliph Umar Ibn al Khattab (Umar I, Ruled 634-644 CE) and again under Umar ‘Abd Al Aziz (Umar II, ruled 717-720 CE) poverty was eliminated, and the people lived at a time of total freedom from hunger and want. Because the people degenerated away from the true message of Islam (which is conveniently left vague) the state of the Caliphate declined, leading to domination in the 19th-21st centuries by European capitalists.

Virtually all Premodern societies had a very large percentage of poor people, whatever their exact structure. So if the Caliphate had ‘no’ poverty it would be a massive anomaly. The evidence itself is largely circumstantial. Islamists have relied on narrations by historical Islamic scholars of letters or historical works. These sources talk about local governors or/and tax collectors in Africa, Iraq, or Yemen stating that they did not need to collect Zakat (Islamic alms/charity) as there were no eligible Zakat recipients left, or they could not find poor people.

The narrations are usually written hundreds of years after the events described, and dependent on doubtful oral sources. There was no ‘UN of the medieval period’, taking down in-depth, objective, representative statistics or archaeology which contextualises or unquestionably proves that want was eliminated. And most of the surviving history was written (hence biased) by the wealthiest people.

Looking at Umar Ibn Al Khattab’s reign, it was hit by the plague and ensuing famine of Amwas in 939. It is said by the Muslim historians Tabari and Waqidi to have killed as many as 25,000 people. As a general rule, societies which have famines have at least some poverty, like Ireland (1846-51), Ethiopia (1983-1985), and Somalia (2011). He also made laws which took account of the poor’s existence, so poverty did exist in his time.

Umar II’s reign was a time of budgetary retrenchment. It seems likely they were looking for excuses to cut spending like Zakat and this could be little more than standard court propaganda to cover that fact. Moreso, Tabari states that during Umar II’s reign the ‘Poor of Basra’ definitely did exist. Even if Umar II managed to briefly solve this issue, his reign lasted only 2 years and the problem almost certainly came back not long afterwards. So whatever progress was made towards dealing with poverty in either ruler’s short reigns was ephemeral. This is not to state we should ignore their attempt to do so – it was an honourable and decent try at solving a basic human need.

The Caliphate saw many other famines, for instance in 641, 674-78, 686/7, 740s, 790, 960, 969-76, 1642, and 1676. According to the modern historian Muhammad Ahsan, locusts were eaten by the poor of Baghdad in times of hardship, and Bedouins ate ‘anything that runs except the reptiles.’ Even Umar II’s reign may have suffered at least some famine, according to later sources. Whatever their rulers intentions and efforts, whatever the laws or sources stated, in reality the ‘model’ of the Caliphate was not able to eradicate poverty in its entirety or hunger any more so than any other medieval system.

Looking at the available evidence, it must be concluded that the ‘Poverty solved’ idea is either unprovable or implausible.

None of this is to rob Muslims of the Legacy of the Caliphate. They are heirs to an amazing tradition of science, learning and culture. But it is not a model for now. The majority of the Caliphate’s denizens were Peasants, Pastoral steppe nomads (Bedouin) or Slaves living in utterly different circumstances to most people today.

When we look to ISIS/Daesh right now, we see a dramatic drop in the standard of living for most of its denizens, including most Sunnis. ISIS is (at least theoretically) working on a model which is so far removed from the modern world economically, politically, technologically and so on that it can only end – as we are seeing now – in disaster.

Translations of the apocalypse: some original sources for the fall of Vijayanagara, 1565

Translations of the apocalypse:

Some original sources for the fall of Vijayanagara, 1565 (still under construction!)
Vijayanagara was a premodern South Asian civilisation which was around from the 1330s, petering out in the 1600s. It thrived, producing some of the greatest monumental temples in South India, and has been seen, rightly or wrongly, as the last Hindu bulwark against the expansion of Turko-Muslim states into India. In 1565, a Vijayanagara army led by their King Rama Raja fought with an alliance of southern Indian Muslim sultans, including Bijapur, Ahmadnagar, and Golconda. Rama Raja was ultimately beheaded, and the army was destroyed. Vijayanagara was sacked, and the great city became an abandoned ‘wood of tigers’, and has only now been re-examined by archaeologists.
Below are a series of translations of historians who covered this fateful battle. This includes some historians who have already been translated (Fredericks), some who have to be retranslated because the original translation into English was not so satisfactory (Firishta) and sources which have never been translated before to my knowledge (Shirazi.) Brenda O’Loinsigh provided a rendering of the Portuguese.
This page is under construction, and I intend to edit and write up this section, and put in more translations/sources as they become available, so watch this space!

Translations of original sources for the battle of Talikota:
Please note that these translations have not been edited, and the Portuguese ones are not especially accurate. As well as this, we have a problem in that these come from different languages and very different source traditions and writing styles, while the exact rendering of places, people, animals and things can vary from text to text.
Please find the following sources included:
Firishtah (re-translated.)
Antonio Rubino (Jesuit missionary in the later Vijayanagara king of Penukonda’s court. )
Diogo De Couto.
Cesar Fredericks

Shirazi: Please note that Shirazi, like Firisteh, was a court chronicler who was almost certainly at the battle or in Vijayanagara shortly thereafter.
… and when the emirs and high officials of the government heard that both princes have arrived, they, too, got prepared [and left their] their houses and appeared at the field. Some of the emirs and high officials of the government, most of whom were foreigners, reached for Miran Shah Hussein and stood there. The Other emirs, who saw this situation, were wondering in fear. Some went to Miran Abd al-Qadir and said ‘why have you left the castle on it its own, losing all the ammunition of the kingdom? Standing here is of no use. If you wait here for longer, Miran Shah Hussein, with the army you can see, will attack and arrest you. Even if they do not take your life, they will injure you. When Miran Abd al-Qadir realized that Qasim beik has betrayed him, he went out of the castle. Meanwhile, Qasim Beik, with his huge army arrived and saluted Miran shah Hussein and prostrated. Until this moment, Miran Abd al-Qadir was still hopeful that Qasim Beik would join him with his army. But he [Miran Abd al-Qadir] saw that, on the contrary, he [Qasim Beik] saluted Miran Shah Hussein and stood in his service,
Do not underestimate the sovereign, who is both an army-man and prosperous
Miran Abd al-Qadir bit his hand [in distress or regret] and turned away to leave. And when the majority of the emirs wanted to follow him, Qasim beik stopped them and said ‘there is no need, as you won the kingdom with no war, nor chaos or riot and captured the castle. Now why do you want to fight? Let the enemy go wherever they want.’
One can kill one to a hundred men by a sword, but with wisdom, one can break the shoulder of [or win] an army
When Miran Shah Hussein saw the enemy leaving in distress, he thanked the Qarashomeh (Qarasomeh?) for their help, entered the castle victoriously and triumphantly and ascended the throne.
He was unaware of how God had nurtured him by his side
[He was unaware of] what treasures would be added to his properties and what lucks he would gain
When fortune and luck came together, they took Miran Shah Hussein to high positions. He was just and worked hard for the army and the poor and day by day, the reputation of his justice would spread around the world and brought the masters of wisdom and sagacity, the scientists and the learned and the righteous and the virtuous and the poets and the meritorious to take shelter at his doorway and benefit from all kinds of attentions. And in this house of prosperity (his court) they all gathered in such a group that cannot be described.
And because of the fight between Burhan Nizam al-Mulk and Rafi’ Adl Khan over the kingship, after the death of Jahan Panah’s father, Bamdad Ramarj invaded the lands of Nizam Shah twice to take revenge, as I wrote earlier. The second time, Nizam al-Mulk establish an alliance with Qutb al-Malik and married his daughter to him and strengthened their relationship as father and son-in-law. He, also won the aid and friendship of Imad al-Mulk, and then the three of them invaded the lands of Jahan Panah together. When Jahan Panah learned about the alliance of the three of them, he sent someone to fetch Ramaraj. Ramaraj went to help Jahan Panah by all means and they embarked on war. For some time, the two armies fought and every day a battle took place. Ram Raj tried to negotiate with Nizam al-Mulk and planned to initiate peace between the two sides, because he also saw his own benefit in peace. When Jahan Panah learned about his initiative, he thought with himself that his toleration with the enemy will cost his reputation; he had to start the war and had to invade them with no considerations, relying on God to defeat the enemy. When the following day he set off for the battle, he invaded the heart of Nizam Shah’s army with no considerations. Therefore, the fire of devilry was ignited and led into excessive killings and controversy. So, Nizam Shah thought that Ram Raj’s toleration was a trick. He preferred to escape and Jahan Panah himself chased him and killed a lot of his soldiers. His warfare (?) and horses were taken by the army of Jahan Shah. When Nizam Shah saw himself surrendered, he went to hide with a few of his soldiers to a corner and left all his royal signs – such as the green flag and the tent (?) and the shade and the fish and the (?) – and escaped. And all the royal belongings came into the ownership of Jahan Panah. Jahan Panah’s royal sign ,which has always been yellow, was donated to one of his special officials. The green flag and the tent (?) and shade were the gifts of Sultan Bahadur Shah Gojararti to Nizam Shah and Nizam Shah had owned them with glorification and pride. Jahan Panah, who had obtained them due to his bravery and endeavours in war, chose them as his own sign. Until today, the year one thousand and seventeen of Hijra the sign has remained the same. Nizam Shah, too, kept his green sign but he added some red to the margins to make it different [from that of Jahan Panah] in courts and it has remained the same to this date. Because Nizam Shah was defeated in every battle and lost all the warfare and elephants and horses he decided to defeat Ram Raj following the will of Jahan Panah Ali Adil Shah. Therefore, Nizam Shah found his benefit in alliance, friendship, and agreement with Jahan Panah, to collaborate with him and remove Ram Raj from the Islamic world. [he thought] when Jahan Panah is left alone, it will be easy to defeat him.
 We try and others try and our fate depends on the sky [God]
In the end, defeating the infidels [Ram Raj] was made possible at the time of Jahan Panah and most of Ram Raj’s royal belongings and his lands were possessed by Jahan Panah. For defeating Ram Raj, qutb al-Malik and Nizam Shah had agreed with each other on peace with Jahan Panah. In order to raise trust, they offered their children and amirs and appropriate gifts and the key to the castle of Sandlapur (?) – Known as castle of Shu lapur (?) today – to Nizam Shah. Also Nizam Shah agreed to marry his daughter, Chand bibi Sultan, to Jahan Panah, and Jahan Panah’s sister, who was named Bibi Amineh Sultan, to his own son, Nizam Shah. For celebrating this marriage, Nizam Shah’s men (suppliers) decorated the Allah pur lake so meticulously that no one had heard of such a celebration since the time of Adam. It was simply competing with heaven. Every day, loads of musk and amber and Saffron were used. They diffused various perfumes under the feet of dancers and musicians and speakers. And the good looking musicians had decorated themselves in a manner that one would think they were made of jewelleries and gems. They attended the reception with fine golden clothes and lots of accessories. More than one thousand guests attended the celebration. They lit the Banquet all day and night by taking turns to dance and sing and play music with coquettish and seducing gestures. The sound of their pleasure and wine drinking reached the sky (?). The floor of the hall was covered with ground amber. Every day one of the amirs was in charge of the celebration and the amirs competed with each other day by day, by adding to the formalities and joys and donations of the celebration. If one wants to describe all the formalities of this banquet, one has to write books, so we shall be brief. In a nutshell, the celebration was held for about three lunar months and people were enjoying themselves. Meanwhile the news was spread that Ram Raj had sent a huge army of soldiers from Bijangar to the borders and had started destroying their territories.
Thus, Kings of Islam united to defeat the enemies and prepared their army by the river Kishnah (or Kushnah) which is a famous ancient river. The river was between the army of Islam and the enemies. They arranged the armies and set off. But none of the armies could enter each other’s lands. When they finished celebrating, they sent girls to each other’s tents and after affection and caresses and joy and satisfaction, they achieved what they wanted and the Sultans got ready for the war. The three kings met near the city of Bijapur and renewed the treaty and embarked on defeating the enemies. When they arrived at the banks of the Kishnah, they crossed the agreed border and went up for two milestones where the river was more shallow and overnight, crossed the river there with their supplies. The next day, they approached the enemies’ camp and because the enemy was unaware of this matter (their approaching their camp), when they suddenly saw the army of Islam that were moving towards them in arranged masses did not find the time to get organized. So the army of Islam invaded them fearlessly and ignited the fire of war. The infidels, too, started to fight and the chaos reached the highest sky.
 Even if you are a lion, you should fear the lion killers, don’t try to be brave to those who are brave
 Although a fawn is brave, he had better run away from the male lion
When the infidels showed courage in the battle and defeated the left wing of the army of Islam and dispersed them, Nizam Shah learned about this and sent one of the amirs to the army of Qutb Shah and asked them to join him. And together with that army, he raided the heart of the army of the infidels and tried to save his position and fought like a man and put a lot of effort. When Nizam Shah saw that the infidels are fighting with bravery and they are about to do them some harm, he appointed a khoja Sara with a bare sword for each of the one hundred members of his Haram on horses, to avoid allowing the enemy to kill his haram. He ordered his soldiers to build a vestibule and a fireplace (?) which they call ‘Ran Nahasb’ (?) and this by this act they announced that we will either defend our position or die. When Ram Raj saw this, he persuaded the Turks to be strong and encouraged his army to fight. Jahan Panah, from the right, had confronted his brother (Ramraj’s) Iltamraj (?). A big battle started and Iltamraj could not resist and had to move towards Ram Raj. Jahan Panah followed him until he reached Ram Raj. When Ram Raj heard the battle behind him he looked back and saw that Jahan Panah had defeated his army and was moving towards him. He [Ram Raj] was surrendered to the point that nobody could move, not even on foot. His only chance was to fight and was ready to die and shook the battle.
 In the time of hardship when there is no other choice, he takes a sharp sword in his hands
In the end, Ram Raj found out that he was stuck and would get killed. And from the front, the army of Nizam Shah and Qutb Shah, and from behind, the army of Jahan Panah were approaching him and on the left and right were his own supplies and there was no way to scape. He ordered his soldiers around to fight. And when Nizam Shah learned the news of Jahan Panah defeating the infidels, he was astonished. Meanwhile, Rumikhan (Dumikhan?), the sheriff of the artillery came to him. He [Nizam Shah] asked where the artillery was and was told that they were arriving and that two large canons were ready. He asked him [Dumikhan] to fill the canons and fire them. When they fired the canons, the army of infidels were all killed. Rumikhan got on his elephant and invaded the army of the enemy with the canons and soldiers. Nobody could confront him until he reached a place where a mass of people had gathered. When he led the elephant into the mass, they all dispersed. And the tooth of the elephant injured Ram Raj who was among that group and he fell on the ground. The people around Ram Raj scattered except for Dilpit Rad (?) who was the headman of Ram Raj. He dropped himself on him and shouted “this man is one of the leaders”. Then Rumikhan realised that this was Ram Raj, so he took him on the elephant and brought him to Nizam Shah. Nizam Shah went to the vestibule and asked to see Ram Raj and sat him beside himself and asked how he felt. He did not answer. But he pointed to his head meaning that this is my fate. Then Qasim beig who was one of the prominent amirs of his [Nizam Shah’s] government and was the head of all other amirs and all the ammunition of the kingdom was managed by him, told him in worry that this was not the time for talking. Because, if his son – Jahan panah – arrived at that moment, he would not let this cursed infidel stay with him. He should not wait. And so they behead Ram Raj immediately and put his head on a spear and showed it around in the camp to prove that the victory belonged to the Muslims, otherwise, the war was still on from both sides. When all allies and enemies heard the news, the rest of the warriors (?) used all the tricks to save their lives from the battle. And the army of Islam started to plunder and took about one thousand elephants and countless horses and royal belongings and warfare. They sent the head of Ram Raj to Imad Shah, because he had not allied with them in war and had started destruction in the territories of Nizam Shah. When he heard the news he returned to his own province. And the victory over the cursed infidel is the date of this victory. For about twenty days, the army of Islam was in the battle field, collecting the belongings of the infidels. The poor and the army of Muslims became rich and wealthy and after that they set off for Bijangar and they looted that flourished and populous town, whatever they saw. Since bijangar was an ancient city and no stranger had reached it for the last thousand years, the army and the peasants were living in wealth and peace. In this riot and chaos, everybody hid all their belongings in houses (?) and mountains and rivers and escaped to caves and mountains. When the army of Muslims learnt about this, the soldiers of the three kings spent all day digging the ground in houses and temples (?) and found treasures. Even slaves betrayed their masters and searched all day for treasures and found some. One day, Nizam Shah was wandering in the streets and bazaars of the town. He arrived at a place where some Bazaar businessmen and dervishes of the army of Jahan Panah had found a copper jar full of jewelleries and gold coins and pearl. They were sitting in the ruins and dividing them between themselves. A group of Nizam Shah’s soldiers came across them and wanted to take a share of the treasure by force. So, a fight started between them and some from both sides were killed and some were injured including two Tarmazi Seyyeds who were martyred. There was also Ashigh (Ashik) Abdal who was a dervish of great knowledge. About thirty to forty disciples of Shimr (?) attacked him from behind and cut his neck, but his artery was intact. They stitched his wound and he survived. And after this he eulogized the kings, but in reality the reason for his survival was the God of the earth (?) and the skies. When Nizam Shah saw this situation, he told his high officials, in this destroyed town, where all these evils happen, we cannot let this evil come between the kings. Something has to be done to stop this chaos. Then he stood there and ordered to collect some brushwood and grass and to leave the doors of houses and bazaars open and set them on fire until all the buildings were burnt down and demolished. However, people kept looking for treasures and found some. And for about six months, they kept demolishing Bijangar and an area of twenty milestones in twenty milestones of the town, borough, and villages was in ruins. About forty to fifty years after this event, this area is still in ruins
Retranslation of Tārīkh-I Firishteh | The paragraph on page. 250 (page 246 of The History of the Rise).
… as it is recorded in the accounts of Adil shāh, with the efforts of benevolent people the hatred among the three kings turned into friendship. They married Chānd Bībī (Pīpī), the daughter of Husayn Nizām Shāh to Alī Shāh, and the castle of Shūlāpūr, that was a matter of disagreement, was given to them as dowry. And Hediyeh Sultan, daughter of Ibrāhīm Adil Shāh was married to Murtizā Nizām Shāh, the son of Husayn Nizām Shāh. The two Shīa kings allied in friendship and agreement. And in the year 972, as it is clearly explained in the story of Adil Shāh, the sultans of the Deccan, except for Burhān Imād al-Mulk, all allied to fight and overthrow Rāmrāj who claimed to be the only authority in the Deccan. After Nizām Shāh and Adil shāh and Qutb shāh and Alī Barīd were prepared for the battle, they crossed the river of Kīshnah and encamped by the bank of Hickery, which is six gurūhs from Kishna. Rāmrāj left Bijāngar with seventy-thousand Cavalries and nine laks of infantry who were mostly archers and artillery-men. The Muslims were terrified by pomp and power and were ready to retreat provided that he [Rāmrāj] gave back the lands of Adil Shāh and Qutb shah and promised that he would not cause any trouble and distress after that. But that infidel [Rāmrāj] considered them too weak and underestimated them and rushed into a war.
Tārīkh-I Firishteh | Events of the Year 972 (pages 126-131 of The History of the Rise) Peyvand Firouzeh.
[Rāmrāj] sent Tenkanādrī with twenty-five thousand Cavalries and two hundred thousand infantry and five hundred elephants to fight Adil Shāh, and sent Iltimrāj with twenty thousand Cavalries and two hundred thousand infantry and five hundred elephants to fight Gutb shāh and Alī Barīd. He, himself, with thirty thousand special Cavalries, and two thousand auxiliary Cavalries from the Rājs of the areas around, that had joint him on the day of the battle, and five hundred thousand infantry, and one thousand elephants, and according to other accounts two thousand elephants, decided to fight Husayn Nizām Shāh. His arrogance stopped him from seeing God… He ordered his brother to arrest Adil Shāh and Qutb Shāh Alīve so that he could imprison them for their whole life. And he ordered his left and right to behead Nizām Shāh right away and bring the head to him… The Sultans of Islam … arranged their army, Adil Shāh on the right, Qutb Shāh and Alī Barīd on the left and Nizam Shāh in the middle… Husayn Nizām Shāh arranged six hundred artillery – including small artillery – in three rows in front of his army. Similarly, he kept two hundred artillery on the right and left, and two hundred – which were of medium size – at the back. After that he prepared two hundreds of small artillery that were bigger than a gun and smaller than medium-sized artillery and put Rūmi Khān – who had exceptional skills in working with artillery [firework] – in charge of them and provided them with plenty of bullets and gunpowder. Meanwhile, two thousand Nizām Shāhi archers – brought the army of Rāmrāj to the artillery little by little. Rūmi Khān started to fire big artillery and when they were emptied, he started using medium-sized and small artillery and many of Rāmrāj’s soldiers were killed. That infidel [Rāmrāj], seeing the Muslim’s fight, got worried. Until then, he was riding Sangāsan . he got off and ordered to bring him golden and red Satins and sat on an adorned stool and made two piles of gold on his sides and donated the gold to his army and encouraged them to fight the kings of Islam and promised that whoever came to him with victory, he would give them the odorned stool (?) and more lands [iqta’]. Therefore, the soldiers on his right and left and front attacked the army of Muslims in a big group and disturbed (or got by surprise?) the right and left of the Niām Shāhi army, which included Adil Shāh’s and Qutb Shāh’s soldiers. People thought that the army of infidels gained victory. At this time, Husayn Nizam Shāh sent a group to the sultans of Islam to deliver a message; that with the help of God and masūmin we will gain victory soon, do not give up fighting…
Tārīkh-I Firishteh pp.72-78 | Events of the Year 972 (pages 126-131 of The History of the Rise)
[Alī Adil Shāh] together with Husayn Nizām Shāh-I Bahrī, and Ibrāhīm Qutb Shāh, and Alī Barīd raised the flag of war. Therefore, in the year 972, based on their promises, the four kings met around Bījāpūr, and on the twentieth of Jamādī al-Awwal of that year … they set off from there together.
And after traversing different places, when they arrived at Bālnakūta which was located at the bank of the river Kishna, they camped. And because that region belonged to Alī Adil Shāh, his majesty hosted both kings and held parties. And sent orders to all the provinces under his rule to provide the necessities of the journey and bring them to the camp so that the people of the camp would have no problems. And when the Rāy [Rāj] of Bījāngar learned about the alliance of the Sultans and the intention of their victorious army, he did not hesitate or feel humble at all, but he considered fighting them an easy task. First, he quickly sent his younger brother, Timrāj (Tirumala), with twenty thousand cavalries, and five hundred elephants, and organized infantry including one lak [one hundred thousand] soldiers, to the river Kishna to block all the paths. And following him [Timrāj], he [Rāmrāj] sent his middle brother, Tenkanādrī (Venkatadri), with complete retinue. And after they blocked the bank of the river and stopped the Muslims from passing, Rāmrāj made the Rāys of the areas around to join him and then with his huge army, like a breathing dragon and a roaring sea, set off and arrived by the river Kishna. And because the infidels of Bījāngar had somehow blocked all the possible paths that Muslims could use, it was not wise to think of crossing the river. The kings of Islam assigned a group to go up the river for thirty to forty gurūhs to search for a path. After a lot of research, the group came back and announced that there were two or three points where they could cross the river. And the path that was more shallow and appropriate for chariots and the army to cross, was the opposite path which the infidels had blocked from the other side and had built a wall and set up different kinds of artillery on it. The kings of Islam had a meeting and consulted with each other about crossing the river…. They decided that they should spread the rumour that there was a new path made and then two or three groups should start leaving that place, and when the infidels were tricked, they [the infidels] too would leave to take that [new] path, so they will leave this [first] path. [Meanwhile] The Sultans of Islam would return quickly and cross the first path and rush into the battlefield. In this way, three groups left one after each other and moved by the river. The infidels fearing that the enemy would cross the river from another path, left that place and quickly started moving with the Muslims on the other side [of the river]. And because God’s will … was that Rāmrāj’s government had to collapse, they [Rāmrāj’s army] were not cautious enough to leave a group to guard the first path and the kings of Islam who saw that their plans were working, returned to the main path and raided to the passage and crossed the river in three days from morning to the sunset. Rāmrāj’s army has not reached there yet when they [kings of Islam] crossed the river with a small group and when the whole army arrived from behind, early in the morning, they moved towards Rāmrāj’s camp that was five gurūhs from there and camped there. Although the infidels were terrified excessively, because they had no other option, they arranged their army and stood opposite their camp all night. The next day, kings of Islam raised the flags of the twelve Imāms and arranged their army. They gave the right wing to Alī Adil Shāh and the left wing to Alī Barīd and Ibrāhīm Qutb Shāh and the middle to Husayn Nizām Shāh-i Bahrī. The artillery chariots (?) were fixed on chains and the drunken war elephants were held in order… and they attacked the enemy…. From the other side, the Rāy of Bījāngar summoned the generals of the army and tried to satisfy them with his kindness and attention. He opened the armoury and distributed guns among them and started to arrange the army. He gave the right wing to Timrāj, opposite Ibrāhīm Qutb Shāh, and empowered the left wing with Tenkanādrī to fight opposite Alī Adil Shāh, and he himself stood in the middle opposite Husayn Nizām Shāh-i Bahrī, holding two thousand elephants and one thousand artilleries in order. And when the sun was at the equator… he raided into the battlefield. Although his fellows begged him to ride a horse, because of his pride, he did not accept and said that in a children’s game [fighting the kings of Islam] there is no need to ride a horse, these people will escape right away. So, the courageous people of the two armies, one from people of wisdom and one from people of evil, fought each other with swords and spears…. The infantry of Bījāngar stood opposite the rows [of soldiers] and to kill the warriors [of God], they would fire about fifty thousand air shoots (?) and guns and cannons at once. And their cavalries [Rāmrāj’s army] took out their Indian draggers and held their shields over their heads and attacked like [brave] men. They were about to trouble the army of Islam when Rāmrāj – as a result of Nizām Shāh’s good will and his determination – was arrested by one of Nizām Shāhi people, accounts of which are as follows: Suddenly when Rāmrāj saw how the Muslims were fighting, contrary to what he had thought earlier, he was afraid of them and in the middle of the battle he got off the Sangāsan and sat on the square stool and raised red and golden velvets which had pearl and gold balls on their four sides and ordered that they made piles of red and white jewellery and carbuncles and pearls. And during the war, because their time was limited, he divided the gold using shields as the scale (?) among the generals and officials and promised that whoever proved their bravery and manhood in the battle, would come to me victoriously and I would donate him trays of gold and bins of different kinds of jewellery. And with these promises, the soldiers of the Deccan were satisfied. Timrāj and Tenkanādrī and other amirs of the infidels suddenly attacked the army of Islam one more time and this time, the right and left wings of the army of Islam dispersed in fear…. The Sultans of Islam were disappointed of winning [the battle] and felt anxious and insecure… But although there was no one left on the right and left [of the army of Islam] and the infidels were firing thousands of air shoots (?) and guns and cannons each time and were attacking from right and left, the determined Husayn Nizām Shāh-i Bahrī did not hesitate at all and did not move from his position. When some of the defeated amirs and Muhammad Kishwar Khān who were in the van of Adil Shāhi army saw him in his position, they came to him. He ordered them to fill the canon of the king of the battle (?) with black money (?) and leave it there. After that they started moving forward, ready to die, and attacked the soldiers of Rāmrāj for several times and dispersed them; to the point that Rāmrāj, whose age had reached eighty, was in panic and got on the Sangāsan. Meanwhile, one of the drunk elephants of Nizām Shāhi whose name was Qulām Alī, approached Rāmrāj’s Sangāsan and squashed a group of people under its feet. And the carriers put down the Sangāsan – which they call Būmi – and Rāmrāj and escaped. And because it was a chaotic situation, no one was paying attention to him. Rāmrāj was left alone and then the carbuncled Sangāsan draw the attention of a mahout. Motivated by his greed for the Sangāsan, he rode the elephant towards it. A birahman who had served Rāmrāj for several years thought that the mahout wanted to take the Sangāsan and therefore he came forward and shouted in misery “this is Rāmrāj, bring him a horse and he will make you one of his great amirs.” When the mahout heard Rāmrāj’s name, he forgot about the carbuncled Sangāsan and took the real treasure [Rāmrāj] by the elephant’s trunk and hurried to Rūmī Khān who was the leader of Nizām Shāh’s artillery. Rūmī Khān took him to Husayn Nizām Shāh right away and cut his [Rāmrāj’s] head with a sword and raised it in front of the army and the infidels saw it and started to return in tears….
The victorious army of Islam chased the infidels and killed so many of them that the earth turned red from their blood. Famous accounts say that the number of the dead reached three hundred thousand. But according to the accurate accounts, about a total of one hundred thousand infidels were killed in the battle and after that. As a result, from the battlefield to the city of Ana Kundī that was ten gurūhs from Bījāngar, the desert was filled with the corpses of the infidels. And the victorious army gained so much gold and jewellery and so many horses and mules and tents and slaves (men and women) that they became needless.
And the kings of Islam moved forward to the outskirts of Bījāngar and ruined the tall and magnificent buildings and temples and houses and destroyed many towns and villages. After Tenkanādrī, Rāmrāj’s brother who had escaped and hid somewhere, sent messengers [to kings of Islam] to ask for mercy and gave back all the castles and mausoleums of Adil Shāh and Qutb Shāh and satisfied Husayn Nizām Shāh-i Bahrī, and the kings left those lands and together, returned to their provinces victoriously. At that time, Timrāj, the son of Rāmrāj, who had sought refuge at Alī Adil Shāh’s at the time of the defeat, told him [Alī Adil Shāh]: “Tenkanādrī has become so powerful and is now Rāmrāj’s successor and because all the amirs are following him, I beg you to accept me as one of your servants and donate me the castle of Ana Kundī and its annexes.” Idālat Panāh [Alī Adil Shāh] accepted him as his son and tried to console him and gave the shade [umbrella] and other symbols (?) of kinship that were a necessity of the Rāys of Bījāngar to him immediately and sent him to rule Bījāngar and wrote to Tenkanādrī that Timrāj has been sent to that area on my order, it is necessary to return Ana Kundī to him and avoid bothering him. Because Tenkanādrī could not disobey the order of Alī Adil Shāh, he transferred the castle of Ana Kundī to his nephew and he himself ruled the other towns of Kirnātik. And since then, the castle of Ana Kundī belongs to the family of Timrāj and the other towns to that of Tenkanādrī and because there are few provinces in their possession, they live in adversity. And the amirs of the area have taken the rest of the large province of Kirnātik up to Sīt Band completely and have claimed independence and become separate divisions (Mulūk Tawāyif) and none of them would obey others and that is the reason that after the mentioned war they have not bothered the Muslims. And Alī Adil Shāh succeeded in taking the castle of Bīkāpūr (?) – that was also captured by the Muslims at the time of the Bahmanīds – together with the fort of Chand Kūtī in the late years of his reign. He could also add the castle of Adūnī – which the Bahmanīds always wanted to capture but were not successful in the end – to his lands with his wise plan. And all the other lands that he captured we will mention in the following parts. And to this date – which is the year one thousand twenty three – the city of Bījāngar is still in ruins and the descendants of Tenkanādrī have not found it necessary to re-build it. And they added the city of Tulkandih to their province and the murder of Rāmrāj happened in the year nine hundred and seventy two. And the father of the author of this book, Mulānā Qulām Alī Istar Abādī, has mentioned the date of his murder in a verse….
And then, because Husayn Nizām Shāh-I Bahrī passed away, his eldest son – Murtizā Nizām Shāh – succeeded him and Alī Adil Shāh took the opportunity to attack Ana Kundī ….

Antonio Rubino’s 1608 account of the history and
religion of Vijayanagara.
Trans: Brenda O’loinsigh. (Rubino was a Jesuit missionary who travelled to the king of Penukonda’s court (what was then left of the vijayanagara state) in or around 1608. His account probably reflects the biases of that court.
Archivium Romanum Societatis Iesum,
ms. Goa 33i [320r-325v].
Concerning the four eras, or ages of the world.

The pagans of this kingdom of Bisnaga have the opinion that there were four worlds, of which the first was called Credaiugam, which they say lasted a million seven hundred and twenty-eight thousand years: and in this time they give to be understood that God spoke in/through men. (Page 244- )The second was called Tredaiugam, and, according to their fables, it lasted a million, two hundred and ninety-six thousand years. They say that in this time there reigned truth and charity among men, and their Rama and? simio Animonta [Hanuman] flourished. They went to Ceilano, and killed Ravana, who was a much celebrated great/giant king of Ceilano, who had a hundred arms and hands, and had stolen the wife of Rama, who as another name is called Peremal. And left victorious in an act of thanksgiving, built the temple of Ramanancur to their idols, who collectively are called Ramanaspera, that is ‘the lord Rama’.
The third was called Disaparaiugam, which lasted for 864 thousand years, during which they pretend that God did not allow himself to be seen if not by some in secret, and in this they say that their devil of Peremal lived, under the name of Crisna, who even in this name, the king of the lie turned/tended to imitate that (name) of Christ our lord. They say furthermore that in this same time there flourished their Damaputram , who with the favour of Peremal together with his brothers entirely destroyed the emperor Treodam.
The fourth they call Caliogam, which means ‘time full of falsehood’, and it is the present in which we find ourselves. And they say that it is to last 432 thousand years, and that this year of 1608 is four thousand, six hundred and 88 years from the creation of the world. The first king who lived in this fourth time, or indeed age of the world, they say that he was called Gena Messen, the second Parasi Dorma Raiulu, the third Sudriga Raiulu, the fourth Vicanamarea, who according to their fables lived for two thousand years. The fifth Bogia Raiulu, after whom reigned the three kings famous among the Malavari, Cioren, Ciolen and Pandian [Chera, Chola and Pandya], who divided the kingdom in three parts, that is Cioren remained lord of the lands of Zamorino, and of all Canara as far as Cassi, which includes the lands of Idalcano, Izamaluco, and Viridi. Ciolen was king of all the coast of Negapatam as far as Bengal. Finally, Pandian governed the lands of Cochino as far as the cape of Comorino, and all the country/land from Madure as far as Trichinapali [Tiruchirapalli]. The histories/stories of these three kings recount that they were very perfect and just, and that through the many and enormous sins that reigned in the world, they concealed, and showed a palm so that in the leaves of this were written the sins of the world , from which they say arose the custom of writing on palm leaves. These three kings were succeeded by Gembus Raiulu, after whom reigned Xalinagamaxagani, and Cadacalaxolen, in whose time the lineages of nobles and mechanics separated. Others were succeeding these kings, up to when Duodaba Rudaram reigned, who was succeeded by Nabana Pracsabat, Avia Raiulu, Para Pudatema Raiulu, and Narsinga Raiulu [Narasimha Raya], in whose time, or slightly before, the Portuguese came to India, from when arose the naming of this reign the reign of Narsinga. After// Narsinga reigned Vira Narsinga Raiulu [Vira Narasimha Raya], who lived for 21 years, who was succeed by Qrisna Raiulu [Krishna Deva Raya], who lived another so many years , and Achunda Raiulu [Achyuta Raya], who lived for 12 years. After this by right Xedasiva Raiulu [Sadashiva Raya] had to succeed, but as he was a little boy, Ramargiu [Rama Raja], uncle of the present king, maliciously/cunningly took his place. This Ramaragiu was very valiant and powerful; he conquered the lands of the dark kings his neighbours, he arrived (page 245- ) as far as Abdenogram [Ahmadnagar], court of the Isamaluco [Nizam-ul-Mulk], and he extended his rule as far a place called “the palms of Bengal”. He brought with him 4 thousand elephants, 20 thousand horses, and six million persons on foot/ foot soldiers (YES – IT SAYS SIX MILLION). With these so powerful (an) army he entirely destroyed the lands of the neighbouring dark kings. Isamaluco remained very affected by this, and determining to take revenge for the injuries thus done (inflicted), he formed a confederation with the two dark kings Idalcan [Adil Khan] and Cotamaluco [Qutb-ul-Mulk], giving them two of his daughters (two daughters whom he had) in marriage. These three kings united together, they set out for Ramaragiu, and when Trimalaragiu [Tirumala Raja], brother of the king, saw such a powerful army, he said to him that it was better to make peace with the three dark kings, than to put the whole kingdom in danger; to which king Ramaragiu singularly replied that if he were not his brother he would have (had) to order his tongue cut for giving such vile and infamous advice. The three dark kings crossed the river, and arranging their army, they made three squadrons; Isamaluco against Ramaragiu, (the) Idalcano against Trimalaragiu, and Cottamaluco against Vencatatriragiu [Venkatadri Raja], brother of the king. Cotamaluco soon took flight through the force of Vencatatriragiu, (the) Idalcano turned shoulders to Trimalaragiu who put him in a bad state; when (the) Isamaluco saw himself abandoned by his two confederate kings, facing death he drove his horse and set upon Ramaragiu, and both parties combating bravely, it happened that an elephant touched Ramaragiu, and he fell from his horse, and he was immediately killed and the whole army was put to the sword. It is believed that this was God’s castigation for what he did to the city of Saint Thomas, where he took many Portuguese to destroy certain idols, that he then liberated, the Portuguese promising to pay him a hundred thousand gold scudi, and immediately they gave 50 thousand, promising to pay the other 50 thousand in a short time, though until now they have not yet paid him. All this happened in the time of the viceroy Don Constantino.
Page 246 – With the death of Ramaragiu, the dark kings took possession of many lands and cities, and principally remained entirely destroyed the city of Visnagarano [Vijayanagara], which was the king’s court, and was 18 miles round, and today has been made a wood of tigers, like the city which was the court of the king of Pegu. And thus this authority was left greatly diminished. The king Ramaragiu was succeeded by his brother Trimalaragiu, father of this king [i.e. Venkata II, or Vemkata Pati Raya], who escaped from the battle badly wounded, and governed for two years, for 13 months with only the title of Ragni, and the last eleven months with the title of Raiulu, which means king. After whose death (there) governed his son called Ciranga Raiulu [Sriranga Raya] who lived for 14 years, and finally his brother who is the present king, called Vencata Padi Rayulu [Venkata Pati Raya], who is aged 66 years, and has already governed for 22; very perfect in all parts of his body, tall and well proportioned, half white (? white haired), very prudent and grave, and of measured (? concerted) words in his dealings, very well regarded (? well versed) in their language and sciences, and so curious about them that nearly every day he spends many hours // with his Brahmans reading and disputing their dogmas, very affably and courteously. One sole matter he lacks speaking humanly, that he is of greater rigour in doing justice and castigating delinquents, and so he is not much feared by his vassals; very friendly with the Portuguese, and principally with the fathers of our Company, very curious about painting, he delights in seeing painting every day in his palace. No less is the delight he feels in hearing the matters of our holy faith which we ordinarily propose to him with the opportunity of many images which we show him. According to the custom of the country he is married to five queens, although he lives with only one, who is entirely her own boss/ has entirely her own role and does whatever she thinks or pleases, nor has the king the right to contradict her in any matter. May it please his/your divine majesty to enlighten him so that he won’t be lost, that (page 247) if he is lost it will not be through not knowing the matters of our holy faith, but for fear of his vassals, or through malice/cunning, so as not to contradict the Brahmans. This king, though married as I said to five wives, never had any child/son, and so primarily two of his nephews, sons of his brother, pretend to succeed to the kingship; one of these is already 40 years old, he is called Trimalaragiu [Tirumala Raya], and he is the legitimate prince and successor to the kingdom, and he keeps his government separate and stays in Cirangapatnam [Srirangapatnam], a hundred and twenty miles away from the king. The king cannot see him, since for fifteen years making war against the naiche [nayaka] of Madure, this prince declared himself partial to the naiche, and rebelled against the king, while it was necessary that the king retired without doing anything for the moment. In recompense for this benefit which the prince made for the naiche, every year the naiche gave him 50 thousand scudi as a present; other of his vassals pay him every year a tribute of 20 thousand gold scudi, and his income/earnings are 300 thousand gold scudi. His army is of ten thousand men on foot, 200 elephants, and a thousand horses. The brother of this prince, called Chica Raiulu [Chikka Raya], cannot succeed in the kingdom in conformity with their laws, because his first wife has already died, which infallibly excludes from reign. After these two come other more distant relatives of theirs, nor does the king wish to name a successor, and because of this it is believed that after his death there must be a great revolt, and that the kingdom must remain divided in more parts, and whoever can (do the) most, he will govern.
In times past, these kings had 64 drugoni, which are fortresses built on the summits of certain high mountains provided with all necessary human food; but now, after the death of Ramaragiu, they possess hardly 16, the others remaining in the power of the dark kings. Also he possesses 72 fortresses on the plain, of which the most beautiful is that of Vellur (Vellore), made with such art and beauty, that it competes with any (qualsivuglia) fortress in Italy.
The remittances which this king possesses are eight million approximately. He three vassals who are called naichi [nayakas], that is of Madure, Tanguer, and Gingia [Madurai, Tanjore and Gingee], who every year pay him 600 thousand scudi in tribute. The first has an income of two million// of gold, the second one million, the third half a million. These three naichi are as absolute lords, nor are they obliged to accompany the king to war, that for which they pay him the tribute described above. Another naiche called Lingama naiche in past years rebelled against the king and he was lord of this fortress of Vellur. The king made war on him and took his fortress, and the naiche gave as a present to the king jewels which were worth two million of gold. The naiche of Madure puts into the field a hundred thousand men on foot, 300 elephants and 4000 horses. That of Tangeur puts into the field 16 thousand men on foot, 150 (Page – 248) elephants and 2000 horses. Finally, the naiche of Gingia arms 10,000 men, 150 elephants, and 1000 horses.
This king also has another 20 captains of the lineage of rajíu,
and another 24 of the lineage of (the) naichi, and 74 (? wood) captains. All these captains enjoy and dominate all the king’s lands, cities and fortresses, without paying him any tribute, but they are obliged to always accompany him in whatever war with all their soldiers. The major/elder and the most grave of all these captains, and the most prudent, and his father-in-law called Oba Rajin [Oba Raya], who has five hundred thousand scudi in income, whose army is of 150 elephants, 500 horses, and 20,000 men. This (captain) is like the right arm of the king in enterprises of major importance. The second captain is the dalavai, which is the official name of the head captain of the king, who has 300 hundred thousand gold scudi in income, whose army is of 150 elephants, 500 horses, and 10 thousand men. That one who held this office died in this past year of 1607, at the age of 40 years, being at the limit of his prosperity married to 53 wives, all of whom burned themselves alive, which was a horrendous spectacle, since some of them were young girls of 14 or 15 years, and they fled from the fire, and hid themselves among the people, though little use it was to them, because the ministers of the devil threw them into the fire by force.

Da Asia De Diogo De Couto: (Please note that this translation is not particularly brilliant.)
ASIA de Diogo de Couto
ASIA by Diogo de Couto

Capitulo XIV – Chapter XIV
Concerning how the Deccan kings (se conjuram) conjured/banded together by oath/made a pact against the king of Bisnaga, in that/how they gave him battle, in which they destroyed and killed and took/captured the kingdom.

In many parts of my (?)Decadas I have written, in how the kings of Bisnaga (Vijayanagara) were lords of all the kingdoms which they (?)created from Bengal as far as the Cinde (?)Sind, whose power, and wealth were an incredible matter; and since the Moors (?)Muslims conquered the kingdom of Decca, there was always great hatred between them, and wars; and even the years after fifteen hundred and sixty-three, in the time of the Count of Redondo, between Rama King of Bisnaga for the kings of Izamaluco (Ahmadnagar – Hussein Nizam shah) (l)hum year after others (?) year, and (he) destroyed them, (assolou/affolou), and destroyed everything, of which they took/had great riches.????? ?The Izamaluco Sultan (Hussein Nizam shah), seriously hurt by that general, called together the Idalxa, (Bijapur) and the Hebrahe,(Berar?) and the Cotubixa,(Golconda) and the Verido (Bidar?) in an alliance. So the alliance would stay secure, he (between Moors there is confidence/safety), tried to (give the) appear(ance) (page 89) with all, as he did in this manner: to (the) Idalxa he gave his daughter in marriage with a large dowry, and the City of Selapor, which he ??? had taken(que lhe tinha tomado), and to(the) Cotubixa he gave another; and he married a daughter or sister of Idalxa: which marriages were celebrated with great feasts, and firm oaths that they would all join against the king of Bisnaga, (do que)(of which) they were soon advised; and joining (together) their power, and having summoned their vassals, they soon started out for(found themselves on) the country/field with their brothers Venta Vengata Raje field Captain, and Timaraje Veador (?overseer) of the farm, and affirmed that he had a hundred thousand horses, and more than six hundred thousand infantry. The three enemies brought five hundred thousand horses, and three hundred thousand infantry, and some field/camp people: with this power they went to seek the enemy with great determination.

Capitulo XV. – Chapter XV.
Concerning the encounter of the Kings, disruption, the battle in which the King of Bisnaga was killed, and destroyed.

The three Kings of the conjuration arrived at the extremes of the Kingdom of Bisnaga, and entered/invaded/pillaged it, doing great damage in terms of money; the (king) of Bisnaga also went (page 90) in search of them. One day while he was dining, they gave him a message that the enemy Kings had appeared, whereupon with much haste he sat up on his splendid horse, and ordered/commanded his people the best that he understood. His two brothers went to him, and asked him to ?collect up(que se recolhesse) the city of Bisnaga which was strong, and that they would remain giving battle to the enemies: and that ——————they knew what they had in Bisnaga, they would take care that they would always look after them: and that the enemies would have to make peace with him, as long as he was there, that he held with him much greater power, and they would always have to fear him.
The king as being ninety-six years of age, with the dignity of thirty replied to them, that although/even though they might collect, that they could play with their children: that he was King, and had to do his duty, which was to go out in front of his vassals, defending them, and encouraging them. The King had sent before his vassals a Captain of the Royal (cofta/costa) with ten, or twelve thousand soldiers to the (costa/cofta) (Rafes/Rases), which are called Rachebidas, like the Janissaries of the Turks, to scout the countryside; the two brothers, ——, that already the Rachebidas(page 91) had worked with the enemies: for which turning on horseback, they took two lances in each of their hands, and they sent in front Vengata Raje, as field General, so that he would (?cause the Rachebidas to be favoured). Vengata Raje arrived where the(feus) came to a stop/break and surrounded them, fighting valiantly; but at the first/earliest encounters soon disappear(ed); and when Intima Raje went to help with his son Raganate Raje, they fought the enemies with great force, even though they had only a thousand five hundred Rachebidas (some sort of bodyguard unit), as most were dead and wounded ; and when they were involved in battle, although they made valiant efforts(cavallarias) he was wounded and his son was very badly inujured as well and they left the battle. This news they gave to the King; pulling away with the rest/Remainder of his power, he went to face his enemies, calling at times Gorida, Gorida, who was his idol in battles, as we do with the Apostle Saint James. The vanguard of the conjured (Deccan sultanal alliance) brought the Idalxa (Bijapur), and Cotubixa, (Golconda) and in rearguard the Izamaluco (The nizam shahis/Ahmadnagar) the first encounters of the King of Bisnaga, which were very furious,released(?pushed) him from the front of the field; and when the King with the Rachebidas came to the Izamaluco, who had ten thousand horse, he drove (?) him from the field and was (dando nelle ? Fighting them) for a space of a (page 92)half league, in which he ?(lhe matou) ?killed/surpassed him from an advantage of two thousand. The Rachebidas, when they saw their King involved in danger, (they) got down from their horses, and still on foot they made a great massacre of the enemies. The Izamaluco, who (hia? was) in disarray, went back to reform and they turned with some field pieces and the King was mixed up with the Idalxa; and when the bombardments took fire, made great destruction on the enemies, which was a fright/shock, and they all fled in fear, and the poor, old King was made captive, and very badly wounded, and so he was brought to the Nizamexa, (Nizam shah) who ????blindfolded him???, (remetteo a elle- ? set at him), and cut off his head, saying I am avenged of thee! Let god do what he wills with! (faca Deos de ?mim o que quizer).
The Idalxa soon had word of the taking of the King , and went very quickly in order to release him, because he was still his friend, and called him Father, but he was slain already, which he felt in the extreme. Having rested on the (battle)field, they remained to be the victors in the place of battle for three days, in which the sons of the Rajas/nephews of the King went into Bisnaga, and carried away a thousand , five hundred and fifty elephants of jewels, (?precious) stones, money coins, and other things of the sort, which were estimated at more than a hundred millions of gold, and the (page 93) royal chair, on which the King used to sit on his feast days, which was affirmed to be without estimate, and with all that they went through the inner enclosure, and collected everything in the Paco of Tremil, because (it) was very secure, which was(em –f/sima de huma f/serra inexpugnavel), ten days walk from Bisnaga; and after the collections with these treasures, the Bedues, (?? who were bush/country peoples – que fam gentes dos mattos) went six times into Bisnaga, and took other great riches, all of which the conjurors lost as they did not quickly follow(?up) the victory. When the three days were completed, they went to the City of Bisnaga, to (rabificar), that which remained, which was a lot, which they ?stopped ??within five months, at the end of which were collected all the very rich: the Idalxa even now have a diamond the size of an egg, (supposedly in the English crown jewels!) which the King of Bisnaga used to carry on the base of the ?feathers of the head of his horse, and another for the button of the ?names/nominas, as well as other pieces of infinite value. When the five months had passed, the conjured went to their Kingdoms; and the sons, and the nephews of the dead King shared out amongst themselves the Kingdoms, that even now they might be able to be his heirs.
Since the destruction of the King of Bisnaga made India, and our State very broken; because the greater dealings which all had, were from that Kingdom, from where they got (page 94) horses, velvets, satins, and other sorts of merchandises, from which they made great profits: and the Alfandega of Goa well felt it in his income, such that from then, here the residents of Goa began to be less(i.e. the number began to decrease); because the (?blessed things/beatilhas), and fine robes, which was a dealing of great importance for Ormuz, and for Portugal, quickly stopped; and the gold pagodas, of which more than five hundred thousand came every year to use in the (?naos) of the Kingdom, they were then worth seven and a half tangas, and they are now worth eleven and a half, and likewise at that count all the ?other/major currencies: even though in this we take the first blame, and the greatest, because we moved our liquid and pure assets, and we made them false, and of a defective sort , with which everything changed.
In the beginning of the year sixty-six Luiz de Mello went into the Captaincy of Ormuz, for news came to him that D. Pedro de Souza had died, that he was buried in the doors/gates of the Fortresses, and his bones were moved to the wall, where they have a niche with iron bars, and his inscription. Fidalgo was a most honourable and good Christian, and God fearing. They say that he had the Formation of the Grand Turk, through being able to go by land through the Kingdom, and to take certain horsemen through which he made himself (page 95) ready; but God our Lord ordered that he go to another, better Kingdom, where one presumes he would go because of his virtue and goodness. There went at the same time to the straight of Meca, two ?rowing ships, Captains Antonio Cabral, and Pedro Lopes Rebello, to take ?the news (salla or falla de gales), and they warned Ormuz; and as they found everything quiet, they turned to winter in Goa.
On the fifth of September of that year 1566, the Turk Soliman died, being about Segete, a place in the confines of Hungry, being at the of sixty-six years. His son of the name of Solimon II succeeded him, who was to whom Lord D. John of Austria destroyed that powerful Armada, as General of the League; others say that that he didn’t die much before 1567. This Solimon was crowned Emperor of the Turks on the same day, as the Emperor Charles V was invested by the German Empire.

Chapter XV completed.

Overleaf: The Burhan I’ Ma’asir, another Persian Court Chronicle which is very partial to the Nizam Shahis of Ahmadnagar.

Cesar Fredericks account of the Battle of Talikota (Contained in ‘Hakluytus posthumus’ or ‘his travels’.):

‘….and the fleet which commeth every yeere from
Portugall, which are five or sixe great shippes that come
directly for Goa, arrive there ordinarily the sixth or
tenth of September, and there they remaine forty or
fifty dayes, and from thence they goe to Cochin, where
they lade for Portugall, and often times they lade one
shippe at Goa and the other at Cochin for Portugall.
Cochin is distant from Goa three hundred miles. The
city of Goa is situate in the kingdome of Dialcan a
king of the Moores, whose chiefe city is up in the
countrey eight dayes journey, and is called Bisapor : this
king is of great power, for when I was in Goa in the
yeere of our Lord 1570, this king came to give assault
to Goa, being encamped neere unto it by a river side
with an army of two hundred thousand men of warre,
and he lay at this siege foureteene moneths : in which
time there was peace concluded, and as report went
amongst his people, there was great calamity and mor
tality which bred amongst them in the time of Winter,
and also killed very many elephants. Then in the yeere
of our Lord 1567, I went from Goa to Bezeneger the
chiefe city of the kingdome of Narsinga eight dayes
journey from Goa, within the land, in the company of
two other merchants which carried with them three
hundred Arabian horses to that king : because the horses
of that countrey are of a small stature, and they pay
well for the Arabian horses : and it is requisite that the
merchants sell them well, for that they stand them in
great charges to bring them out of Persia to Ormus,
and from Ormus to Goa, where the ship that bringeth
twenty horses and upwards payeth no custome, neither
ship nor goods whatsoever ; whereas if they bring no
horses, they pay 8 per cento of all their goods : and at
the going out of Goa the horses pay custome, two and
forty pagodies for every horse, which pagody may be of
sterling money sixe shillings eight pence, they be pieces
of golde of that value. So that the Arabian horses are




A very good of great value in those countreys, as 300, 400, 500

sale for hones, duckets a horse, and to 1000 duckets a horse.


THe city of Bezeneger was sacked in the yeere 1565,
by foure kings of the Moores, which were of great
power and might : the names of these foure kings were
these following, the first was called Dialcan, the second
Zamaluc, the third Cotamaluc, and the fourth Viridy :
and yet these foure kings were not able to overcome this
city and the king of Bezeneger, but by treason. This
king of Bezeneger was a Gentile, and had, amongst all
other of his captaines, two which were notable, and they
were Moores : and these two captaines had either of
them in charge threescore and ten or fourescore thousand
men. These two captaines being of one religion with
the foure kings which were Moores, wrought meanes
with them to betray their owne king into their hands.
The king of Bezeneger esteemed not the force of the
foure kings his enemies, but went out of his city to
wage battell with them in the fieldes ; and when the
armies were joyned, the battell lasted but a while not the
space of foure houres, because the two traitourous cap
taines, in the chiefest of the fight, with their companies
turned their faces against their king, and made such dis
order in his army, that as astonied they set themselves
to flight. Thirty yeeres was this kingdome governed
by three brethren which were tyrants, the which keeping
the rightfull king in prison, it was their use every yeere
once to shew him to the people, and they at their
pleasures ruled as they listed. These brethren were
three captaines belonging to the father of the king they
kept in prison, which when he died, left his sonne very
yong, and then they tooke the government to themselves.
The chiefest of these three was called Ramaragio, and
sate in the royall throne, and was called the king : the
second was called Temiragio, and he tooke the govern
ment on him : the third was called Bengatre, and he was


A most unkind
& wicked
treason against
their prince :
this they have
for giving
credit to stran
gers, rather
then to their
owne native



captaine generall of the army. These three brethren
were in this battell, in the which the chiefest and the
last were never heard of quicke nor dead. Onely Temi-
ragio fled in the battel, having lost one of his eyes :
when the newes came to the city of the overthrow in the
battell, the wives and children of these three tyrants,
with their lawfull king (kept prisoner) fled away, spoiled
as they were, & the foure kings of the Moores entred The sacking of
the city Bezeneger with great triumph, & there they the at ^
remained sixe moneths, searching under houses & in
all places for money & other things that were hidden,
and then they departed to their owne kingdomes, [II. i. 220.]
because they were not able to maintaine such a king-
dome as that was, so farre distant from their owne

When the kings were departed from Bezeneger, this
Temiragio returned to the city, and then beganne for
to repopulate it, and sent word to Goa to the Mer
chants, if they had any horses, to bring them to him,
and he would pay well for them, and for this cause the
aforesayd two Merchants that I went in company with-
all, carried those horses that they had to Bezeneger.
Also this Tyrant made an order or lawe, that if any An excellent
Merchant had any of the horses that were taken in the f 10
aforesayd battell or warres, although they were of his
owne marke, that he would give as much for them as
they would : and beside he gave generall safe conduct
to all that should bring them. When by this meanes
he saw that there were great store of horses brought
thither unto him, hee gave the Merchants faire wordes,
untill such time as he saw they could bring no more.
Then he licenced the Merchants to depart, without giving
them any thing for their horses, which when the poore
men saw, they were desperate, and as it were mad with
sorrow and griefe.

I rested in Bezeneger seven moneths, although in one
moneth I might have discharged all my businesse, for
it was necessary to rest there untill the wayes were




cleere of theeves, which at that time ranged up and
downe. And in the time I rested there, I saw many
strange and beastly deeds done by the Gentiles. First,
when there is any Noble man or woman dead, they
burne their bodies : and if a married man die, his wife
must burne herselfe alive, for the love of her husband,
and with the body of her husband : so that when any
man dieth, his wife will take a moneths leave, two or
three, or as shee will, to burne her selfe in, and that day
being come, wherein shee ought to be burnt, that morn
ing shee goeth out of her house very earely, either on
horsebacke or on an eliphant, or else is borne by eight
men on a smal stage : in one of these orders she goeth,
being apparelled like to a Bride, carried round about
the City, with her haire downe about her shoulders,,
garnished with jewels and flowers, according to the
estate of the party, and they goe with as great joy as-
Brides doe in Venice to their nuptials : shee carrieth
in her left hand a looking glasse, and in her right hand
an arrow, and singeth thorow the City as she passeth,,
and sayth, that she goeth to sleepe with her deere spowse
and husband. She is accompanied with her kindred
and friends untill it be one or two of the clocke in the
afternoone, then they goe out of the City, and going
along the rivers side called Nigondin, which runneth
under the walles of the City, untill they come unto a
A dmnption place where they use to make this burning of women,
of the burning being widdowes, there is prepared in this place a great

square cave, with a little pinnacle hard by it, foure or

five steppes up : the foresayd cave is full of dried wood.
The woman being come thither, accompanied with a
great number of people which come to see the thing,

Feasting and then they make ready a great banquet, and she that

sha11 be burned eateth with as reat J ? and gkdnesse,
as ^ugh it were her wedding day : and the feast being
ended, then they goe to dancing and singing a certeine
time, according as she will After this, the woman of
her owne accord, commandeth them to make the fire-




in the square cave where the drie wood is, and when
it is kindled, they come and certifie her thereof, then
presently she leaveth the feast, and taketh the nearest
kinseman of her husband by the hand, and they both
goe together to the banke of the foresayd river, where
shee putteth off all her jewels and all her clothes, and
giveth them to her parents or kinsefolke, and covering
herselfe with a cloth, because she will not be seene of
the people being naked, she throweth herselfe into the
river, saying : O wretches, wash away your sinnes.
Comming out of the water, she rowleth herselfe into
a yellow cloth of foureteene braces long : and againe
she taketh her husbands kinseman by the hand, and
they go both together up to the pinnacle of the square
cave wherein the fire is made. When she is on the
pinnacle, shee talketh and reasoneth with the people,
recommending unto them her children and kindred.
Before the pinnacle they use to set a mat, because they
shall not see the fiercenesse of the fire, yet there are
many that will have them plucked away, shewing therein
an heart not fearefull, and that they are not affirayd of
that sight. When this silly woman hath reasoned with
the people a good while to her content, there is another
woman that taketh a pot with oile, and sprinckleth it
over her head, and with the same she anoynteth all her
body, and afterwards throweth the pot into the fornace,
and both the woman and the pot goe together into the
fire, and presently the people that are round about the
fornace throw after her into the cave great pieces of
wood, so by this meanes, with the fire and with the
blowes that she hath with the wood throwen after her,
she is quickly dead, and after this there groweth such
sorrow and such lamentation among the people, that
all their mirth is turned into howling and weeping, in Mourning

such wise, that a man could scarse beare the hearing ;>***%

– . , t . . * snouta.

of it. I have seene many burnt in this maner, because

my house was neere to the gate where they goe out
to the place of burning : and when there dieth any

V 385 2B



The cause why
the women do
so burne

great man, his wife with all his slaves with whom hee
[IL i. 221.] hath had carnall copulation, burne themselves together
with him. Also in this kingdome I have seene amongst
the base sort of people this use and order, that the man
being dead, hee is carried to the place where they will
make his sepulchre, and setting him as it were upright,
then commeth his wife before him on her knees, casting
her armes about his necke, with imbracing and clasping
him, untill such time as the Masons have made a wall
round about them, and when the wall is as high as
their neckes, there commeth a man behinde the woman
and strangleth her : then when she is dead, the worke-
men finish the wall over their heads, and so they lie
buried both together. Besides these, there are an infinite
number of beastly qualities amongst them, of which I
have no desire to write. I was desirous to know the
cause why these women would so wilfully burne them
selves against nature and law, and it was told mee that
this law was of an ancient time, to make provision against
the slaughters which women made of their husbands.
For in those dayes before this law was made, the women
for every little displeasure that their husbands had done
unto them, would presently poison their husbands, and
take other men, and now by reason of this law they
are more faithfull unto their husbands, and count their
lives as deare as their owne, because that after his death
her owne followeth presently.

In the yeere of our Lord God 1567, for the ill
successe that the people of Bezeneger had, in that their
City was sacked by the foure kings, the king with his
Court went to dwell in a castle eight dayes journey up
in the land from Bezeneger, called Penegonde. Also
sixe dayes journey from Bezeneger, is the place where
they get Diamants : I was not there, but it was tolde
me that it is a great place, compassed with a wall, and
that they sell the earth within the wall, for so much a
squadron, and the limits are set how deepe or how low
they shall digge. Those Diamants that are of a certaine





sise and bigger then that sise, are all for the king, it
is many yeeres agone, since they got any there, for the
troubles that have beene in that kingdome. The first
cause of this trouble was, because the sonne of this
Temeragio had put to death the lawfull king which he
had in prison, for which cause the Barons and Noblemen
in that kingdome would not acknowledge him to be their
King, and by this meanes there are many kings, and
great division in that kingdome, and the city of Beze-
neger is not altogether destroyed, yet the houses stand
still, but empty, and there is dwelling in them nothing,
as is reported, but Tygers and other wilde beasts. The
circuit of this city is foure & twentie miles about, and
within the walles are certeine mountaines. The houses
stand walled with earth, and plaine, all saving the three
palaces of the three tyrant brethren, and the Pagodes
which are idole houses : these are made with lime and
fine marble. I have seene many kings Courts, and
yet have I seene none in greatnesse like to this of Beze-
neger, I say, for the order of his palace, for it hath nine
gates or ports. First when you goe into the place where
the king did lodge, there are five great ports or gates :
these are kept with Captaines and souldiers : then within
these there are foure lesser gates : which are kept with
Porters. Without the first gate there is a little porch,
where there is a Captaine with five and twentie souldiers,
that keepeth watch and ward night and day : and within
that another with the like guard, wherethorow they come
to a very faire Court, and at the end of that Court
there is another porch as the first, with the like guard,
and within that another Court. And in this wise are
the first five gates guarded and kept with those Captaines :
and then the lesser gates within are kept with a guard
of Porters : which gates stand open the greatest part
of the night, because the custome of the Gentiles is to
doe their businesse, and make their feasts in the night,
rather then by day. The city is very safe from theeves,
for the Portugall merchants sleepe in the streets, or under




porches, for the great heat which is there, and yet they
never had any harme in the night. At the end of two
moneths, I determined to go for Goa in the company
of two other Portugall Marchants, which were making
ready to depart, with two palanchines or little litters,
which are very commodious for the way, with eight
Falchines which are men hired to cary the palanchines,
eight for a palanchine, foure at a time : they carry them
Men ride on as we use to carry barrowes. And I bought me two
bullocks, and bullocks, one of them to ride on, and the other to carry
*&m0ntL m y y i ctua l s an d provision, for in that countrey they ride
w^. on bullocks with pannels, as we terme them, girts and

bridles, and they have a very good commodious pace. From
Bezeneger to Goa in Summer it is eight dayes journey, but
we went in the midst of Winter, in the moneth of July,
and were fifteene dayes comming to Ancola on the
sea coast, so in eight dayes I had lost my two bullocks :
for he that carried my victuals, was weake and could not
goe, the other when I came unto a river where was a
little bridge to passe over, I put my bullocke to swim
ming, and in the middest of the river there was a little
Hand, unto the which my bullocke went, and finding
pasture, there he remained still, and in no wise we could
come to him : and so perforce, I was forced to leave
him, and at that time there was much raine, and I was
[II. i. 222.] forced to go seven dayes a foot with great paines : and
by great chance I met with Falchines by the way, whom
I hired to carry my clothes and victuals. We had great
trouble in our journey, for that every day wee were
taken prisoners, by reason of the great dissension in that
kingdome : and every morning at our departure we must
pay reseat foure or five pagies a man. And another
trouble wee had as bad as this, that when as wee came
into a new governours countrey, as every day we did,
although they were al tributary to the king of Bezeneger,
yet every one of them stamped a several coine of Copper,
so that the money that we tooke this day would not
serve the next : at length, by the helpe of God, we came




safe to Ancola, which is a country of the queene of
Gargopam, tributary to the king of Bezeneger. The Tkemarchan-

marchandise that went every yere from Goa to Bezeneger d ? se tk f com
A1 . TT TT 1 T^ 1 10 in and out to

were Arabian Horses, Velvets, Damasks, and Sattens,

Armesine of Portugall, and pieces of China, Saffron, and every yere.
Skarlets: and from Bezeneger they had in Turky for
their commodities, jewels, and Pagodies which be ducats
of golde: the apparell that they use in Bezeneger is The apparell
Velvet, Satten, Damaske, Scarlet, or white Bumbast
cloth, according to the estate of the person with long
hats on their heads, called Colae, made of Velvet, Satten,
Damaske, or Scarlet, girding themselves in stead of
girdles with some fine white bombast cloth : they have
breeches after the order of the Turks : they weare on
their feet plaine high things called of them Aspergh, and
at their eares they have hanging great plenty of golde.
Returning to my voyage, when we were together in
Ancola, one of my companions that had nothing to lose,
tooke a guide, and went to Goa, whither they goe in
foure dayes, the other Portugall not being disposed to
go, taried in Ancola for that Winter. The Winter in Their Winter
those parts of the Indies beginneth the fifteenth of May, * 50urSummer –
and lasteth unto the end of October : and as we were in
Ancola, there came another Marchant of horses in a
palanchine, and two Portugall souldiers which came
from Zeilan, and two cariers of letters, which were
Christians borne in the Indies ; all these consorted to
goe to Goa together, and I determined to goe with
them, and caused a pallanchine to be made for me very
poorely of Canes ; and in one of them Canes I hid
privily all the jewels I had, and according to the order,
I tooke eight Falchines to cary me : and one day about
eleven of the clocke wee set forwards on our journey, and
about two of the clocke in the after noone, as we passed
a mountaine which divideth the territory of Ancola and
Dialcan, I being a little behinde my company, was
assaulted by eight theeves, foure of them had swordes
and targets, and the other foure had bowes and arrowes.




When the Falchines that carried me understood the noise
of the assault, they let the pallanchine and me fall to the
ground, and ranne away and left me alone, with my
clothes wrapped about me: presently the theeves were
on my necke and rifeling me, they stripped me starke
naked, and I fained my selfe sicke, because I would not
leave the pallanchine, and I had made me a little bedde
of my clothes ; the theeves sought it very narrowly and
subtilly, and found two pursses that I had, well bound
up together, wherein I had put my Copper money which
I had changed for foure pagodies in Ancola. The
theeves thinking it had beene so many duckats of golde,
searched no further : then they threw all my clothes in
a bush, and hied them away, and as God would have it,
at their departure there fell from them an handkercher,
and when I saw it, I rose from my pallanchine or couch,
and tooke it up, and wrapped it together within my
pallanchine. Then these my Falchines were of so good
condition, that they returned to seeke mee, whereas
I thought I should not have found so much goodnesse
in them : because they were payed their mony aforehand,
as is the use, I had thought to have seene them no more.
Before their comming I was determined to plucke the
Cane wherein my jewels were hidden, out of my coutch,
and to have made me a walking staffe to carry in my hand
to Goa, thinking that I should have gone thither on foot,
but by the faithfulness of my Falchines, I was rid of that
trouble, and so in foure dayes they carried me to Goa,
in which time I made hard fare, for the theeves left me
neither money, golde, nor silver, and that which I did
eat was given me of my men for Gods sake : and after at
my comming to Goa I payed them for every thing
royally that I had of them. From Goa I departed for
Cochin, which is a voyage of three hundred miles, and
betweene these two cities are many holdes of the Portu-
small gals, as Onor, Mangalor, Barzelor, and Cananor.

Overleaf: The Burhan I’ Ma’asir, another Persian Court Chronicle which is very partial to the Nizam Shahis of Ahmadnagar.

Ronan’s reviews

Adam Zamoyski’s
1812: Napoleon’s fatal march on Moscow.
Adam Zamoyski’s 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow is a stunning narrative retelling of the French emperor Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia.
The French invasion of Russia in 1812 was in effect supposed to be Napoleon’s final assertion as the supreme power in early 19th – century Europe. Over the past ten years he had pummelled the various military powers with stunning battlefield successes – Austria (along with the Russians) at Austerlitz (1805), and Wagram (1809), Prussia at Jena and Auerstadt (1806), and Russia herself at Friedland (1807). In 1812 he put together a vast, 500,000 strong multinational army drawn from all over Europe known as the Grande Armee for one final, all – out effort to subdue Tsar Alexander I’s Russia, his one remaining serious obstacle to dominating mainland Europe.
Zamoyski’s work takes us into the initial invasion, as it proceeds via Poland and Smolensk, through increasingly savage and, for both sides, desperate battles, as well as the slow debilitation of the army, then up to the sack and burning of Moscow. With lucid use of images and excellent characterisation he guides us through all the macabre savagery and horror of the retreat from the funeral pyre of Moscow, then illustrates the slow destruction of the Grand Armee through a combination of the oncoming Russian winter, French incompetence, roving Cossack bands and a host of other factors, leading to the essential destruction of the largest army in European history till that time. Some of the best (and downright chilling, no pun intended) moments are when he skilfully weaves in tales of the sheer, yet futile determination of the soldiers to return and the travails they encounter. He draws attention to the French soldieries continued faith in Napoleon even as they froze to death, and their sadness in watching him get off his horse and march with them in an attempt to share some of their suffering and boost morale.
He gorily recounts how troops unused to cold conditions of down to minus 38 degrees Celsius would simply expire after walking for only a few minutes, or the bizarre case of otherwise starving French troops feasting on rich sugar and coffee captured from the Muscovite nobility.
His use of imagery – the warm, though stark conditions of summer in eastern Europe as the French marched to their doom, in contrast with the endless icy barrenness and suffering of the French retreat mere months later – is extremely effective, which makes this work far more accessible to the general reader.
He is not sparing in his criticism of the Russian’s overall response, as well as the Russian Tsar Alexander’s dilly-dallying between compromise or conflict with Napoleon. Though the Russian leaderhip’s competence was certainly questionable, the criticism is perhaps slightly overplayed and is one (minor) part of this work that must be taken issue with.
There was very real logic behind many of the Russian strategic decisions, such as Kutuzov’s unwillingness to engage Napoleon directly in battle and his decision to essentially let the French be killed by the elements instead.
He fails to see that Alexander and his generals realised that the French army, with its veteran core of crack troops who had served through 20 years of campaigns from the battle of Valmy through to Austerlitz would have been very difficult to defeat in a straight fight, and heavily outnumbered the Russian army anyway. So a retreat, despite the fact that this ceded the initiative to the French and allowed them to ravage Russia for months, was really the only logical option apart from some sort of accommodation.
Nonetheless, for the most part Zamoyski’s research is excellent, using a mixture of diaries, battle reports, newspapers and various other sources to weave together a tapestry of death and destruction, battles, triumph and tragedy, folly, farce, sacrifice, incompetence, and human suffering that was part of the events of 1812. Though this is well-trodden ground for most historians by now, Zamoyski’s real skill is in how he brings this story to life in a riveting, shocking and emotional work which will catch the reader’s attention till the final page.

Upcoming Publications / projects

 Islam and the west compared (working title):

Drawing from years of research into world and countrywide social statistics, this work will objectively examine the issues of what the two societies are doing right, and what they are doing wrong.This is an immensely complicated debate, with numerous highly distorted rhetorics and dialogues competing against one another: the ‘decadent west’ versus the ‘medieval islamic world’, and occidentalism and orientalism constantly raging against one another, smoothing the way to conflict. This work seeks to cut through the mythology and examine the real social issues behind so many assumptions: Does ‘Islam’, ‘Islamic law (Sharia)’ or wider islamic culture oppress women? Is the west decadent? Is ‘Islam’ particularly violent? Using UN, WHO, World bank and other statistics to objectively examine these issues, this work sheds light on one of the most fundamental problems of our time.

Other War. (Novel, fiction, sci-fi.) Due 2016.

Battle Bits – Observations on the great battles of the past.

Plataea: A snippet of time in a decisive ancient battle.
Were the Spartans the great warriors we would believe?

So this is a problem I’ve been thinking about for a while.

It concerns this: That great, and somewhat underlooked, battle at Plataea. For a few insane minutes, a huge army of Spartans hunkered under their shields as a black sandstorm of arrows fell on them. The army stood on the knife-edge of destruction.
Herodotus, the revered ‘father of history’ and the first great world historian gives us a rough account of this decisive battle from over two millenia ago. He tells us that as the massed forces of the Persian warrior elite, the famous ‘Immortals’ thumped into view, they proceeded to bombard the Spartans with arrows. Rather than charging the Persians immediately (The Spartans weren’t so good at long-range skirmishing) they needed to consult their auguries, make sacrifices and generally go through several stodgy pre-battle rituals. But this account seems a little strange to me. The Spartans were professional warriors. No doubt rituals meant a lot to them as they did to most premodern peoples. But to stand there being hit by arrows while their priests tried to slaughter their animals for a ritual? This is a little difficult to believe.
So what happened?
So the year was 479 BC. The Persian Empire, the greatest the world has ever known, had invaded Greece, under its King-of-kings Xerxes. A relatively weak alliance of city states including the Athenians and Spartans has tried to put up resistance with mixed success. The Persians have overran the Spartans at Thermopylae, and destroyed Athens. But their fleet has gone and gotten itself destroyed at Salamis. Xerxes had fled home, leaving his chief commander, Mardonius, to finish the job.
A motley group of Greek city-states including Sparta and Athens had arrayed themselves up to fight Mardonius and hopefully kick his still-large army of elite Persian troops out of Greece. But if Mardonius won, or even just caused a stalemate, the Greek army would probably fall apart, leading in all likelihood to a Persian conquest of this, one of the starting points of western civilisation.
Historians have frequently ignored this Battle. But Persia, even though its army was probably reliant on sea power to project itself in the mediterranean, was primarily a land power. Any long-term Greek victory had to involve the defeat of the land army which had conquered most of Asia.
During the battle, the Spartans, who made up perhaps a third or even half the Greek army were busy arguing among themselves. They had just spent several days on the receiving end of hit-and-run horse archery tactics by the Persian cavalry which had been slowly battering them and wearing them out disrupting their supply lines and hitting them with arrows from long range from where the spear-and-sword armed Greeks could not effectively reply.
The Spartan commander Pausanius had decided to retreat the Greek army. And the Persians (or at least most of their elite cavalry and infantry troops under Mardonius, while at least one of his commanders had mysteriously fled) had gone in pursuit, thinking the Greeks were finished and they could destroy the alliance once and for all. Their cavalry nipped at the Greeks heels with arrows, threatening to turn the whole thing into a rout. To make things worse, at least one Spartan commander had stubbornly tried to stay behind to fight the Persians while the rest kept going. This endangered the whole army, which was strung out retreating.
It was at this stage that the slower Persian elite infantry, which had been pursuing them as well, thundered into view. As per the Persian Infantry doctrine of the time, they arrayed up in units ten ranks deep, with the first rank carrying large wicker shields arrayed next to each other like a huge wall. Few could have helped being impressed by this huge display of Persian tactics.
So the Arrow–storm started. What happened next?
Prior to the battle, the Greeks had tried hard to array their forces opposite those forces in the Persian camp whom their respective contingents were more familiar with. Since the Athenians had more experience of the Persians tactics, they should fight them, while the Spartans, being more experienced with hand-to-hand fighting against other Greeks, should fight the Thebans, the Persians Greek allies. But things didn’t turn out like that – the Persians fought the Spartans.
In other words, it seems (if we can trust a battle account that is 2,400 years old and handed down to us through several oral and written sources) the Spartans were surprised by that initial volley of arrows, and basically stood quivering there for the first few minutes. The Greeks at times used archery, but hardly on this scale and it is unlikely that the Spartans would have ever seen anything like it before.
The only Spartans who had actually encountered the Persians in a set-piece battle in living memory were at Thermopylae or Salamis. The elite Spartans at Thermopylae had all been slain (except for the immensely brave aristodemus, who would charge into the Persian ranks in this battle) by the time of Plataea. At Salamis, the small Spartan contingent took a backseat to the Athenians and were facing Persians who had been either rowing all night, unaccustomed to fighting at sea, or had their aim knocked off by the heaving triremes they were in.
Bear in mind that they were fighting against at least 10,000 Persians from the elite Immortals (and probably rather more), who heavily grounded their fighting expertise based on archery fire, either from horseback or on foot. These were amongst the very best Persian and Asiatic warriors, drawn from selected families amongst the Persian nobility – the equivalent of the best Spartan hoplites to some degree.
The fire would have been not unlike that at Agincourt or the river Sajo, with literally hundreds of thousands of arrows splitting sky in just those first few ghastly minutes. Anyone not completely covered by a shield and armour (incidently Persian archery could penetrate their armour at close range so there was no sure defence) could feel an arrows strike through hand, leg, groin or eyeball.
No wonder Callicrates ‘the most beautiful man in the army’ was amongst those who died with an arrow in his side without lifting an arm against the enemy to his ending regret. And no wonder this is recorded with such (apparent) accuracy: this would have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which few on the Greek side had ever witnessed before or since.
So what was happening here? If we go by modern authors like Adrian Goldsworthy, many ancient battles worked essentially through complicated issues of crowd psychology. Trying to motivate an army to charge through such an arrow-storm against a strangely dressed unknown enemy (especially when many were Helot serfs who may not have had any particular investment in a Spartan victory) would have been difficult to do.
The Spartans just stood there quivering (in a most unSpartan way) for several minutes while the Persians shot arrow after arrow into them.
It was probably only after the battle that the ‘consulting the auguries’ myth was inserted, either consciously or unconsciously, to help keep the historical narrative in line with the myth of Spartan bravery. The Spartans had frequently used their rituals as an excuse not to do things – such as the battles of Marathon or Thermopylae, where the participation of their whole army in said battles (and not just a small force at the latter fight) could have made a big difference. And we know that the Spartans were vulnerable to missiles – Later on in the century, in the battle of Sphacteria (425 BC) against the Athenians, the use of slings and arrows would prove to be highly effective, causing a Spartan army to surrender. So all this is essentially an excuse for the fact that the Spartans basically stood there, unfamiliar with this devastating weapon and unable to get up the courage to charge for several crucial minutes, suffering serious losses in the process.
With the Spartans evidently unable to get up off their backsides, maybe the Persians archery, combined with cavalry and the likes, could have earned them the battle.
But this didn’t happen. Their Tegean allies, tired of the Spartans hesitation, were the ones who managed to break the psychological impasse, running on to fight the Persians hand-to-hand. Simultaneously the auguries suddenly became favourable (In other words, the Spartans were shamed into charging by the much smaller Tegean contingent) and the warriors joined in. Indeed, Herodotus notes that the ‘Valour’ of the Tegeans was at least equal that of the Spartans.
At the end of the day, the Spartans are only as good as they are recorded to be. They were efficient warriors, but they never had quite the versatility to conquer most of the Middle East like the supposedly militarily weak Persians did. Later on they would manage to conquer much of Turkey, but would ultimately fail to hold onto it, and were eventually defeated by the relatively minor Thebans. This makes me wonder if the Spartan’s military effectiveness is all it has been cracked up to be – by generational legions of historian-fanboys and, much later, books and several… regrettable films.
Anyway, the Spartans charged, and despite considerable losses to themselves as well as the immense bravery of the Persians, they eventually killed Mardonius, destroyed most of his elite troops, captured their camp in the midst of savage hand-to-hand fighting with the help of their Athenian allies who had demolished the Thebans. The Persians were kicked permanently out of Greece, their all-important land power destroyed.
Why did the Persians lose? This isn’t hard to see. They got lured into the sort of hand-to-hand combat that the Spartans excelled at but for which their training and equipment was only halfway designed. The Persians had to hold down an empire where they fought against a diverse range of enemies ranging from horsemen out on the vast steppes of the east, to camel-riding arabs, to infantry and so on. They could not completely match the Spartans in this particular grubbing infantry melee. It comes down, in other words, to skill-sets and equipment. Had the fighters met each other, say in an open field (as happened to the Greeks on other occasions during the Ionian wars) which was closer to the sort of skillset match that the Persians were proficient at, the Greeks would have probably lost.
The Persians were also defeated through a mixture of their own poor morale and internal divisions, the absence of many of their troops from the battle (some fleeing, some apparently never getting involved in the crucial fight between the Spartans and Immortals until it was already lost) not to mention a poorly-placed cavalry charge at the smaller Greek city states which I believe probably took most of their crucial mounted arm away from this main fight against the Spartans at precisely the wrong moment.
Nor should we place much stock by the supposedly light Greek casualties of only a couple of hundred versus tens if not hundreds of thousands of Persian dead if we took Herodotus literally. It is clear the Greeks suffered heavily through the battle, (probably more so in the less-well-armoured uncounted lower ranks and amongst allied and tributary states), and this was no one-sided fight, but a desperate battle to the finish where the stakes could not have been higher.
Frankly given the level of division and strife amongst the commanders while their enemy bore right down on them, it is only thanks to the fact that the Persians were even more divided and at each other’s throats and the terrain (largely by accident) in their favour that the Greeks saw victory in this most epic encounter battle of accidents.
Anyway, the moral of this story is: The Spartans were doubtlessly great warriors, yes. But were they the legendary, all-conquering warriors of the time? Were they immune to archery, or for that matter cowardice? Probably not. They proved themselves unmatched in a specific tactical situation – heavy infantry combat. The Spartans constructed their reputation not just on Thermopylae, but on their later victories at Plataea and so on, which made their survival – and the ensuing playing up of Thermopylae – possible. But these were not the clear-cut battles which demonstrated Spartan superiority in arms. In many cases, they were lucky, or had favourable circumstances going for them.
They did defeat the Persians. But only just.

Further Reading:

Herodotus, Histories, translated by George Rawlinson. (Hertfordshire, 1996)
(Please note that there are multiple translations of this great work.)
Adrian Goldsworthy, The complete Roman army, (London, 2011)

Battle of the Trench, March 627 CE

‘Do you think you shall enter the garden (of bliss) without such (trials) as those who fought before you? ‘(Qur’an, 2:214)[1]

‘The best victory is when the opponent surrenders of its own accord before there are any actual hostilities…. It is best to win without fighting’ Sun Tzu, Art of war.


Dates: (approx.) March 628. (2-4 weeks)


Meccan Alliance: Abu Sufyan (overall Command) Khalid Ibn Walid (and others) –(Cavalry) Ghatafan chief: Uyayna b. Hisn. Banu Qurayza chief: Ka’b ibn Asad.

Muslim: Prophet Muhammad/’Abd Allah ibn’Abd al-Muttablib ibn Hashim, Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, Abu ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, ‘Umar ibn Al-Khttib, Uthman ibn ‘Affan. Sa’d Ibn Mu’adh.

Other names: Battle of the Khandaq / Al-Ahzab / Siege of Medina. Ghazwah al-Ahzap (‘raid/expedition’ of the confederates’) or battle of the confederates.

Location: Medina, Hijaz, Western Modern Saudi Saudi Arabia, Middle East.

Battles importance: The battle determined whether the new religion of Islam would survive or not.

Reason the Battle was fought: Abu Sufyan and the Meccan Quraysh tribe opposed the rise of a new proselytising religion, Islam, under its prophet Muhammad, and were also keen to guard the existing socioeconomic order. They also resented the Muslim’s attacks on their trade caravans to Syria, which Medina was on the route to.

Meccan Alliance forces: 10,000 troops approx, including 600 cavalry, also 700 Jewish troops of the Banu Qurayza including 36 cavalry. Armament: Mail Hauberks, (Dir’a) some lamellar armour, swords, long spears, shields, and (for the few Abyssinian mercenaries, attached to the Meccans) Javelins.  Training: Mostly tribal, martial, with some individualistic training. Notes: both sides included elite units of Mubarizun, or champions, who would kill and their enemies champions and leaders, demoralising the enemy. Tactics: Cavalry functioned mostly with sword and shield, poor horse-archers. Infantry could function in a spear-wall but it is unclear how often these tactics were used as opposed to simple melee type infantry fighting, though there were definitely organised ranks. Archers fighting along in front of, behind, or next to heavy infantry could help it resist a frontal cavalry charge.[2]

Muslim forces: 3000 troops approx. 36 Cavalry. Armament: roughly comparable with the Meccans, Spears, straight swords, round shields of leather. Training: as above. Tactics: as above.

Muslim forces: 3000 men. Notes: see notes above.

Sources for the battle: The Qur’an, the Hadith Sahih Al-Bukhari, as well as the Islamic historians Ibn Ishaq, Al Waqidi, and Tabari, based on oral trains of transmission handed down each generation, called ‘Isnads’ from which are drawn different stories or easy – to –memorise events, though these are often mutually contradictory. Waqidi in particular has received much criticism for propagating inacuracies, but this view has been reassessed of late.[3]  All are Islamic Sources.









The Religion of Islam is vast. Today’s Muslim population of the world ranges from around 1.42 Billion to 1.57 Billion people or nearly a quarter of the World’s population. It is the dominant religion and way of life in the Middle East and in much of Asia and Africa, with large and growing communities in Europe and the United States.[4] It is the world religion with the largest number of practising adherents, and is a central part of these societies, affecting every part of their way of life.

It has spread to the farthest city in the globe, and in almost every corner of the world everywhere there is a Muslim presence. It has had a profound effect on history through science, the arts, and a way of life and day-to-day reality which is enjoined upon its followers. It has even shaped the evolution of the west through its effect on the sciences and technology, the evolution of Christian theology and western society through the existence of the ‘other’ religion and society against which it took many of its religious and social stands, as well as through the transmission of Greek and Roman texts.

Yet there was a time when this emergent religion’s very existence hung on a knife edge. For in March 627 CE Abu Sufyan, chief of the powerful Quraysh tribe of Mecca, marched at the head of 10,000 men to destroy the heavily outnumbered Muslim community in Medina and kill its leader and founder, the Prophet Muhammad, in what would become known as the battle of the Trench (al-Khandaq).

Muhammad, or Abū al-Qāsim Muḥammad ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib ibn Hāshim was Born around 570 in the central ritual and trading centre of Mecca in the Central Hijaz region of modern day Saudi Arabia. He led a largely unremarkable life as a businessman up till the age of 40. Muslim tradition attests that around the year 610, Muhammad began receiving visions from the Angel Gabriel. These visions enjoined him to preach about a new god, a single, all-powerful deity known as Allah, a practice known as monotheism. He was also enjoined to carry out social reform of Arabia. He began to preach against many things within Arabian society, such as the practice of burying live female offspring, and he slowly began to gain followers. These early followers would be known as ‘companions’ and include foundational figures within Islam including the future founder of Shi’a Islam, the renowned fighter and founder of Shia Islam, ‘Ali, and the Caliphs ‘Abu Bakr, Uthman, and ‘Umar, as well as his warrior uncle Hamza.

Mecca was dominated at that time by the powerful Quraysh clan, which had a monopoly over the pilgrimage and ritual site of the Kaaba, probably a piece of meteoritic rock, which had been hewed into a hollow square at the centre of the town. As in contemporary China and central Asia, Arabia at this time was a land in turmoil. A massive war was going on between the neighbouring Persian and Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empires to the north, and they were beating each other into mutual exhaustion. Their tacit dominance over much of the Arabian Peninsula had been weakened, and numerous small tribes and kingdoms scattered over the peninsula were trying to fill this void. As well as this, Arabia was a land in spiritual turmoil. At this time, as now, religion and political and personal identity were bound up together, though to what degree is hard to know. Arabia was divided roughly between Jewish communities such as the polytheistic (‘pagan’) communities, the Jews of Khaybar to the north of Medina,  and a new type of community called the Hanif or people who believed in one, single god, which was influenced by both Christian and Jewish trends, and it was into this fertile ground that Muhammad’s visions arose.

The Quraysh and much of the rest of the Arab population at this time were polytheistic idol-worshippers, believing in Hubal the moon god and his daughters Manat, al-Uzza and al-Lat, as well as a pantheon of other gods.[5] They saw Muhammad as a threat to their dominance in Mecca, who was upsetting the social order on which their power was based. They increasingly began to persecute Muhammad and his followers. At the same time, Medina, a small town to the north of Mecca was having some problems, with major divisions between and within local Jewish and Arab tribes within the city, and continual blood feuds between all groups, based in large fortified house-forts in the city. They invited Muhammad in to arbitrate between them and bring peace to their city. [6] Muhammad and his followers were eventually forced to migrate to the city of Medina in 622 CE, or year one, as this event is usually seen as the start of the Muslim calendar. Those followers who had emigrated with him to Medina became known as ‘Muhajirun’, or ‘Emigrants’, while those who converted and followed him from Medina became known as ‘Ansar’, or ‘Helpers’, a division which would be of considerable importance in future Islamic history. Muhammad began to knit these tribes together, setting up an agreement or treaty known as the constitution of Medina to regulate most major relations in the city within and between the Arab and Jewish communities.

Muhammad’s followers began raiding caravans going from Mecca to Byzantine Syria to make ends meet.[7] In the year 624 CE the Meccan army, led at that time by Abu Jahl, or the so called ‘father of lies’ set out with a large army to cover a caravan coming from Syria. They met Muhammad and his followers at Badr, and in the ensuing battle Muhammad heavily defeated them, killing several important Meccan leaders, including Abu Jahl. Importantly, victory in this battle was seen to be the result of angelic intervention as part of, possibly, a sandstorm.[8] Subsequently Abu Sufyan ascended to the Meccan leadership, and would prove to be a much more adept opponent of Islam and its prophet. The prophet also used the opportunity to expel the Banu Qaynuqa, one of the more powerful Jewish Tribes, from Medina.

In March 625 CE the Muslims were threatened at the battle of Uhud, not far from Medina itself by a reinforced Meccan army under Abu Sufyan. This time the Meccans killed Hamza Ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib, Muhammad’s uncle. The Meccan Cavalry, under its brilliant leader Khalid Ibn al-Walid, was able to outflank Muhammad’s followers when they were on the verge of victory and crush them, nearly killing Muhammad himself. The Muslims retreated into Medina to lick their wounds, though the Meccans fortunately made no effort to follow up their victory and retreated themselves. This defeat was a heavy blow to Muslim morale, and though the community survived it was now tarnished and in serious danger of being destroyed altogether.[9] Muhammad worked tirelessly to build up new alliances as well as expand the Muslim dominion, and he increased Muslim manpower, though Abu Sufyan did so in tandem as well.[10] He also expelled another Jewish tribe, the Banu Nadir, under their leader Huyayy Ibn Akhtab, from Medina after a long siege. This left the Banu Qurayza under their leader Ka’b b. Al-Asad as the dominant Jewish tribe to Muhammad’s rear in several large house-forts, though the treaty between this community and the Muslims was still in force.

Nevertheless, further, if minor, defeats of the Muslims occurred at B’ir ma’unah and Ar-Raji, and by the start of the year 627 CE the Islamic community was at a low ebb, with Huyayy ibn Akhtab, disgruntled leader of the Banu Nadir drumming up support across the Hijaz for a major campaign against the Muslims.[11] It was now that probably the greatest threat that Islam had known till then came about: ‘al-Ahzab’, or the attack of the allied parties.[12]






Contending armies



Since the Battle of Uhud, Abu Sufyan had stitched together a new alliance of clans, with a large and well-equipped army of 10,000 men to crush the Muslims once and for all.[13] The allied forces were drawn from across the Hijaz, with the powerful nomadic Bedouin tribe of the Ghatafan providing 2,000 men, the Banu Suleim providing 700, the Banu Murra who provided 400 and the Banu Kinana. As well as this there were the Meccans themselves who provided 4000 men including Abysinnian mercenaries renowned for their skill with javelin throwing.[14] The army’s best troops were around 600 skilled cavalry drawn from these different tribes led by Khalid Ibn Walid and the renowned fighter ‘Amr Ibn ‘Abd ‘Wudd amongst others.[15]

Faced with this mortal threat the Muslims were heavily outnumbered, and were only able to assemble 3000 men. Since they had only 36 horsemen of their own, they were especially vulnerable to the Meccan Cavalry as they had been at Uhud.[16]

The two armies would have been roughly similar in terms of equipment, with the better-off troops (especially the cavalry) being armoured with Dir’a chain mail armour hauberks and a very few may have had lamellar armor. Most troops would also have had shields of leather and wood. The Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe for instance possessed 1500 swords, 1000 spears, and 300 suits of armour for around 700 warriors during the siege.[17]

Both sides would have been armed with short, straight swords, not the curved scimitars of later orientalist myth which would not be used in large numbers till centuries later. The two sides were armed with bows made out of the Celia Tenax tree, which were reasonably effective at short range, though archers were often poorly armoured.

The cavalry (who could also fight on foot) would have also fought using long lances and swords, and were especially skilled, though they were not very good at horse-archery, which would turn out to be a disadvantage when the skirmishing at the trench began.

Training on both sides would have emphasised a martial, macho warrior culture based on single combat and brutal hand-to-hand fighting. Tactics were fairly advanced, including ruses, false retreats, and archery.

Overall though, the Muslims had an advantage in terms of cohesion. This was thanks to rigid insistence on prayer, as well as the fact that their army contingents were basically less diverse and had operated with each other before, in contrast to the ad hoc Meccan alliance. In battles like Badr, Muhammad had assigned each man to pair with another. These pairs were not supposed to leave each other during the fighting.[18] This system, perhaps vaguely similar to the US ‘Battle buddy’ system as part of basic training may have still been in operation at the Trench, and would have prevented many Muslim units simply fleeing before the enemy for fear of being sneered at for cowardice. [19]

The Muslims had generally performed better in close-quarter combat up till then, and unless their enemies had a decisive advantage in numbers, the Muslims could usually triumph. Unfortunately, they were outnumbered more than 3 to one at the Trench.[20]

Meccan armies may have brought their own wives and children with them to help encourage the cause. Arab women of this time were far more independent than is often presumed, for instance Abu Sufyan’s redoubtable revenge-crazed wife Hind who had encouraged the troops and chewed out Hamza’s liver at the Battle of Uhud and even wearing bits of his ears as a necklace afterward. [21] Yet there is no mention of their presence on the field and their absence or non-participation may have made a significant motivational difference on the battlefield.

This is not to state that the Muslims were militarily superior man for man – they weren’t. Meccan cavalry, as stated, would more than make up the balance in an open field battle, which is why the trench was so important. To make things worse, some of the Medinan troops in the army of 627 seem to have been young boys with little combat experience.[22]

The difference in fighting strengths was simply one of degree, and that degree was not major, nor was it really enough to make up for the Muslims basic inferiority in numbers. The Muslims best – probably only – chance of winning in the siege was to face the enemy down essentially and prevent an assault coming in the first place, through deception, using the enemies divisions against them, making Medina a decidedly unpleasant prospect to attack, and luck.[23]

Early Islamic historians such as Ibn Ishaq and more contemporary Muslim historians contend that this alliance was the result of the work of the Jews of Kheibar to the north of Medina carefully orchestrating a conspiracy against Muhammad. It seems much more likely that the Meccans, who had been at war with him for several years after all, would have equal cause and far more actual power to assemble this alliance.[24]  The Jews of Kheibar stayed aloof during the entire campaign. apart from their leader Huyayy Ibn Akhtab who acted as Abu Sufyan’s chief negotiator with the Banu Qurayza, promising him their full support.[25]

In fact, it seems that the oral-mnemonic processes from which the historians like Tabari and Ibn Ishaq took these accounts radically exaggerated the Jews role. These oral accounts had been worked through the period of the Umayyad dynasty. As we will see, the Umayyad dynasty was descended from Abu Sufyan, and hence there may well have been much distortion of the oral accounts before they got to the Islamic historians Ibn Ishaq, Tabari and Waqidi.[26] These oral accounts would have gone far to avoid the real implication that their current Umayyad master’s ancestor, Abu Sufyan, was in fact the real architect of the war against Muhammad, though Huyayy did egg him on. A brilliant leader, Abu Sufyan had the resources and will to fight Muhammad, and had consistently proven to be the Muslims greatest enemy. Modern historians like Hamidullah uncritically put this history into the modern post-Palestinian Nakba context, painting Jews as Muslim’s eternal enemies. Though the various Jewish tribes were at best ambivalent toward the rise of Muhammad, they were not uniformly hostile to him.

In spite of this, there was a real chance of assistance from the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe in Medina, and many powerful leaders in Medina itself like Ibn Ubayy, chief of the Khazraj tribe were seriously opposed to Muhammad, having betrayed him in the past as at Uhud. The stage was now set for an epic contest of intelligence, morale, and will.



The Construction of the Trench



Faced with this mortal threat, The Prophet held a consultation with his followers, as per the usual democratic traditions in early Islam and Arabia. Understandably many were growing sceptical about their ability to hold Medina. Some were counselling a total retreat from the city, which would have left them without any base from whence to organise, supply or fight from, and would doubtlessly have led to the community’s disbandment. Most tribes in the Hijaz were at best neutral to the Muslims at this time, but not especially friendly. [27] Others recommended fighting on the slopes of the nearby mountains -a strategy which however had not really worked at Uhud, and with the Quraysh having brought an even bigger army, could hardly work now.[28]

According to the Islamic historian Waqidi, it was a recent ascetic convert to Islam, Salman the Persian, who recommended the use of a trench: ‘O Prophet, when we were in Persia, and feared cavalry, we built a ditch around us’.[29] This strategy would prevent the Meccans from using their powerful cavalry, and the prophet agreed. The plan essentially was for a huge trench to be dug across the narrow plain which gave entrance to Medina from the north.

Muhammad erected a red tent for himself at mount ‘Sal overlooking the work and assigned the Muhajirun (emigrants) to dig and guard the area from Ratij to Dhubab, and used the Ansar (which were a larger group) to dig and guard from Dhubab to mount Banu Ubayd, Khurba and al-Madhad, while a third group may have been held in reserve during the siege itself.[30] Accounts differ as to the exact length and location of the trench. The tribes would go out each day to work immediately after the prayers, a powerful routine reinforcing their faith and cohesion.[31] Waqidi tells us that the Banu ‘Abd al-Ashhal dug the trench from around Ratij to what came after, with the trench coming from behind the mosque. The Banu Donar dug from Khurba to the place ‘where the house of Ibn Abil-Junub stands today’ according to Waqidi, writing about 160 years later.[32] While it is hard to completely reconcile these accounts, it is clear that a massive trench was dug all the way across the northern plain giving entrance to Medina on front of mount ‘Sal.

The rest of Medina was protected by the massive lava plains consisting of fields of huge rocks and mountains scattered around the edge of the city, while the rest were protected by interlocking buildings and fortresses within the city itself.[33] Though we have no information on how big the trench was, Richard Gabriel has suggested it may have been sixteen feet wide with a two foot parapet on the side where the Muslims could defend from.[34]

Salman the Persian oversaw the work, with every batch of ten men digging 40 cubits of earth along the Trench. [35] This was a truly communal effort, with young boys being called up to dig, and even the Banu Qurayza Jews lent tools to the effort.[36] The construction was a race against time, because the Alliance was on its way and if they got there before the trench was finished, it could be disastrous.

The prophet himself worked tirelessly alongside his followers, and one of the boys would remember the Prophet years after the event, in a red cloak, his chest sprinkled with earth.[37]  While constructing the trench the Ansar would say ‘we are those who have given the pledge of allegiance to Muhammad for Jihad as long as we live.[38] The prophet would reply ‘Oh Allah! There is no life except the life of the hereafter. So please honor the Ansar and the emigrants’.[39] The Ansar would also sing ‘let paradise, oh lord, our guardians be, helpers and emigrants look for help to thee’.[40] The prophet, along with his closest companions, would share his followers hunger and with his belly covered with earth he would pray to Allah: ‘please bless us with tranquility and make firm our feet when we meet our enemies. Indeed (these) people have rebelled against (oppressed) us but never shall we yield when they try to bring affliction upon us’.[41]

On another occasion, the emigrants and Ansar were digging in a very cold morning. When he noticed their fatigue and hunger Muhammad said ‘O Allah! The real life is that of the here-after. Please forgive the Ansar and the Emigrants’. In reply the Emigrants and Ansar said ‘We are those who have given a pledge of allegiance to Muhammad that we will carry on Jihad as long as we live’.[42] And according to a different oral transmitter, al-Bara, he went around carrying earth, praying ‘without you we would have got no guidance!’[43]

Lacking wheelbarrows, many Muslims gathered up the soil in their garments and dumped it on the parapet at the Muslim side of the trench while others stacked up stones for missiles for the battle.[44]

However many Medinans seem to have held back from the work, and there are hints at serious internal tensions in Medina. If there was a major assault, the community could disintegrate.[45]

Despite this, there was still time for jokes. One Zayd B. Thabit lay asleep at his post in the trench, and his weapons were taken by another fighter called ‘Umara b. Hazm, with the result that Thabit went running around the camp looking for his weapons. Eventually though Hazm returned the equipment, and the Prophet forbade any future pranks like this, as well as Thabit’s original fault of falling asleep.[46] The Prophet also changed the name of another man whom had not been blessed with good looks from the unfortunate title of Ju’ayl or ‘little beetle’ to the name of ‘Amr, inspiring a number of mocking folk diddies.[47]

Many miracles are associated with this siege. For instance, the Prophet is reported to have spat water on a huge rock which had been discovered blocking the digging of the trench, causing it to break apart, while he also caused vast quantitites of bread to appear.[48]

Either way, it would need nothing short of a miracle to save Islam from the coming storm.







  The Siege Begins

The trench had scarcely been finished when the Alliance army showed up. Muhammad assembled the army and prepared to meet his and his community’s fate.[49] The whole plain was filled with Alliance men and horses as far as the eye could see, and many Muslims doubtlessly began to wonder about their movement’s survival.[50] Approaching the trench, the allies despatched scouts forward, while their cavalry leader Khalid also ascertained the trench.[51] When they first saw the trench, they are said to have exclaimed ‘by god, this is a stratagem that the Arabs have never employed’.[52] Having realised that the Muslims would not come out into the open field to fight, they spent the rest of the day in consultations.[53]

The siege itself went on anywhere from 15 days to a month, and consisted mainly of skirmishes, the occasional barrage of arrows, and a flurry of diplomatic activity as both sides sized up the other and waited for a major Meccan attack.[54] It has often been wondered why the Allies did not attack from the south, where dried-up river beds could give entrance to Medina through the lava fields away from the trench to the north. It would seem that to the south Medina was covered by a system of interlocking walls and gardens which in Maxime Robinson’s opinion could hold up a large army, even if they could make their way through the fields of boulders with their army intact and in formation. Either way, it seems that the Meccans chose to ignore this route, and attacked from the north, via the trench instead.[55]

One crucial factor was that the Meccan forces had come to Medina expecting an immediate battle in the field as at Uhud. They had no supplies for a long drawn out siege, nor did they have a permanent camp from which they could base their activities.[56] Muhammad’s forces had drawn in all the harvest several weeks before the Meccan’s arrival, and Abu Sufyan and his allies were forced to disperse their camels and horses to the slopes in the surrounding vicinity and to Wadi Al-Aqiq nearby, where what little fodder was left was quickly consumed. [57] The Muslims also did not have to come out to fight as they had at Uhud, because at that time they had observed the enemy burning their crops – this did not happen this time. To make things worse, there was drought in the area. It is important to understand that these conditions badly affected the Muslims as well, and many began to run short of food.[58] This was as much a battle of supplies and willpower than anything else, and while they would badly effect the Muslims the unpleasant climatical conditions would, as we shall see, have a decisive effect on the outcome of the siege. This meant that the Allies had to take Medina either by assault, treachery, support from the Banu Qurayza Jews, or by some combination of all three.

The Meccans now began pressuring the remaining Jewish tribe in Medina, the Banu Qurayza, to join them. This was extremely important because the Banu Qurayza were strategically located behind the Muslims positions in Medina. Huyayy Ibn Akhtab went to the Qurayza leader Ka’b b. Asad al-Qurazi and continually wheedled him, pointing out the Muslim communities weakness until he decided to sever all links with the Islamic community.[59]

The truth is, very little is known about what precisely the Banu Qurayza position was, and it is clear they were only in a lukewarm alliance with the Quraysh at best. In fact they were almost certainly just trying to avoid involvement in the battle. The Banu Qurayza were not in a very enviable position in any case. The had to choose between two powerful forces – the Muslims, or the apparently far more powerful Meccans, either of whom could decide to vengefully come after them if they aided the side which ultimately lost. The best way to assess their mind-set is to look at their actions: if the Banu Qurayza had really intended to crush Muhammad and his followers, then they certainly would have attacked: Indeed, it seems that at best they were indecisive about joining the campaign, and though there were several minor engagements which frustrated them, as well as Nu’ayms machinations, it frankly seems rather ridiculous that they had an entire week in which to attack and then chose not to. Throughout this engagement they made no direct assault on the Prophet’s lines. Indeed, they had originally lent tools to the Muslims so they could build their trench, indicating that they wanted good terms with him up till the last minute.[60] Obviously though the Muslims may not have known this.

The prophet sent several of his companions including Sa’d Ibn Mu’adh, the chief of the Medinan Aws tribe to the Jews to inquire about the situation. When it became apparent that the alliance had been broken, there was a rapid exchange of insults: the Banu Qurayza cried out: ‘Sa’ad Ibn Mu’adh, you bit your mothers clitoris!’ Sa’d Ibn Mu’adh, who had a notorious temper responded to the Jewish leader Ka’b ‘You bit your fathers Penis!’ and so on and on this exchange went.[61]

When the Muslim delegation returned to Muhammad with this news, he tried to keep it secret from the Muslim population. Yet soon enough the word got out, with the result that morale plummeted.[62]

This placed the Muslims in a very bad position, caught between two enemies. While the bulk of Muhammad’s troops were facing the Meccans at the trench, the Banu Qurayza with up to 700 additional warriors, were at their rear threatening the house-forts where their women, children and property were being kept. There was much fear that the families would be massacred.[63] Many of the tribes wanted to retire back to Mecca to guard their families, but this would have left the Muslims – who were already seriously outnumbered at the trench – dangerously exposed.[64]

Eventually, Muhammad allowed the Banu Haritha tribe, whose houses were most exposed to the enemy, to depart back to Mecca to face the enemy while he sent Zaid b. Harba and Sulama b. Assam b. Hartha al-Ashhari with 400 men to patrol Medina, shouting to god throughout the night so as to deter the Banu Qurayza by making them think there were more warriors in the town than there actually was.[65]

Nonetheless skirmishes with the Qurayza occurred, as they tried to weigh up whether to attack or not. One man called Jubayr was sent to spy on the Jews, but fell asleep at his post much like Thabit. He woke up to discover he was on the back of a very strong Jewish warrior, having been foisted up. As he was being dragged back to one of the Qurayza’s fortresses, Jubayr’s hands flailed out, finding that the youth was carrying a spade. Jubayr grabbed the spade and hit him over the head, then ran off before the Banu Qurayza could respond.[66]

It should not be assumed that Muslim women were completely passive throughout this siege either. Many of them provided the Muslims with food and other supplies, while others took part in the fighting.[67] Safia d. Abu-l-Muttalib was residing in the fort of Hasan b. Thabit, Muhammad’s official poet, in Medina when she looked outside and saw one of the Banu Qurayza Jews wandering around looking at the forts defences. She realised that if this man got back to the Banu Qurayza, he would tell them how weak the Muslims were. She asked Thabit to go down and kill him. Either because he was sick or through cowardice, Thabit (whom Abu Sufyan had once called the ‘son of a mouldy, date-eating woman’)[68] replied ‘you know I am not the man to do that’. Undaunted, Safia descended the fort by means of a rope, snook up on the Qurazi and bludgeoned him to death with a club. Even at this stage Thabit refused to strip him for spoils, saying he had ‘no need’ for these.[69]

Ka’b also sent out a force of 10 Jews to assess the Muslim position in Medina. Fortunately they were intercepted near Baqi al-Gharqad by a force led by Salama b. Aslam b. Huraysh. There was an exchange of arrows and several Muslims were wounded, yet ultimately the Jews decided to turn away, and Salama even tried to raid the Banu Qurayza forts instead, though one of his men was crushed by a millstone. After this, it would seem that the Jews lapsed into passivity, awaiting a combined assault with the Meccans.[70]

  The Fight between ‘Ali and ‘Amr

 The real action however was at the Trench itself. John Bagot Glubb thinks the houses of the Arabs were unassailable, and even if the allies had crossed the ditch, they would have been unable to take the city.[71] Yet we should not assume this. During a later civil war in 683, a Syrian Muslim expeditionary force attacked Medina: the Medinese Muslims tried to defend themselves using a trench, but this failed, and Medina was overrun.[72] Even with the trench, Medina was quite takeable: the only way Muhammad could win would be through indirect means, by using morale, psychology, political manoeuvring, and by essentially scaring the enemy off. The situation that developed was quite normal for many campaigns of this era: a series of skirmishes and single combats occurred as both sides weighed up the other’s strengths and weaknesses. If one side was successful in these initial engagements, then they would usually be victorious, because the enemy would be demoralised, and would appear to be weak, as had happened to the Meccans at Badr. Therefore, it was important for the Muslims to win, or at least to appear to win, each of these skirmishes. Otherwise they would face a massive assault by an enemy which outnumbered them three to one.

Realising their way into Medina was barred, the Meccan cavalry ranged up and down the trench trying to discover a way across, while there was sporadic arrow exchanges with the Muslims. This was a critical situation: The Muslims were mostly on foot and were slower than the enemy horse, and there was not enough of them to guard the whole length of the Trench. If the Meccan cavalry got across in force before the slower Muslim infantry could arrive to defend these gaps, they would be able to outflank the Muslims and cut them to bits as they had at Uhud. The Meccans finally found a narrow part of the trench on swampy ground near Mount Sal, and immediately rushed their cavalry toward this gap, the Meccans shouting to their allies ‘You will know who the real horsemen are today!’[73]

A small force of cavalry led by ‘Amr b. ‘Abd Wudd was sent forward past the trench to probe the Muslim defences, the ever canny Abu Sufyan stated that if he needed help, he would cross as well. In other words, Abu Sufyan was going to see how the fighting progressed, and if the Muslims were beaten in the initial skirmish, then a full-scale assault would ensue, which would be hard for the Muslims to hold against with the Trench already breached and their infantry outflanked.[74]

Full of energy, ‘Amr b. ‘Abd rode up to the Muslims wearing a distinguishing mark, and pranced up and down, demanding that someone fight him.[75]

When ‘Amr made his call to combat, the Muslim’s best fighter, one of the Prophet’s closest companions and an immensely important leader in his own right, ‘Ali,  got clad up in armour to fight.  But the prophet told him to sit down, for it was ‘Amr b. ‘Abd.[76] According to Waqidi, the Muslims were pessimistic as to ‘Ali’s chances in a fight with ‘Amr.  ‘Amr b. ‘Abd was a renowned fighter who had killed at least one Muslim follower at the Battle of Badr before he had been disabled by wounds, and had sworn revenge on Muhammad and his followers.[77]

Then ‘Amr repeated his challenge: ‘where is your garden of which you say those who lose the battle will enter it? Can’t you send a man to fight me?’ Again ‘Ali asked the prophets permission to go down and fight, but was refused.

‘Amr continued: ‘I’ve become hoarse from shouting. Isn’t there one among you who’ll answer my challenge?’.[78] ‘Ali asked the prophets permission to go and fight, even if it were ‘Amr, and finally the prophet let him go. Muhammad wrapped ‘Ali in a turban, gave him his sword, and prayed, ‘Oh god, help ‘Ali against him’.[79]

‘Ali marched toward ‘Amr saying ‘don’t be in a hurry, no weakling has come to answer your challenge. A man of resolution and foresight, truth is the refuse of the successful. I hope to make the keening women busy over your corpse through the blow of the spear’.

‘Amr had declared that he would take one of three options if asked, so Ali challenged.  ‘Ali said to ‘Amr, loudly: ‘Amr, you used to swear to god that if a man of Quraysh ever summoned you to one of three alternatives, you would accept one of them from him’.

‘Yes’ replied Amr.

‘Ali b. Abi Talib said ‘I summon you to god, to his messenger, and to Islam’.[80]

’Amr replied: ‘I have no need of this’.

Ali then said: ‘Then return to your land’

‘Amr refused this, knowing scorn would be heaped on him by the Meccan women.

‘third?’ said ‘Amr.

‘The duel’.

‘Why, oh son of my brother? By god, I do not want to kill you’ said ‘Amr, for ‘Ali’s father had been a friend of his. Yet ‘Ali said: ‘But I want to kill you’.[81]

‘Amr was enraged but also saddened by this, because he knew his advantage over ‘Ali. He dismounted, hamstrung his horse, and advanced on ‘Ali.[82]

The main Muslim army was watching the fight, as were the Meccans. This fight could well determine how the siege itself went, for any show of weakness could presage an immediate Meccan attack, while ‘Ali’s importance for the future of Islam was immense.

The two combatants circled each other, both armed with a sword and shield, and dust went up so no-one could see what was happening[83]. ‘Amr lashed out with his sword, cutting ‘Ali’s shield in two, hitting his wrist and helmet, drawing some blood.[84] Yet ‘Ali desperately lashed out in return, cutting deep into the base of ‘Amrs neck. A great cry of ‘Allahu Akbar!’ (god is greatest/most high) was raised when ‘Ali, the future founder of Shia Islam, was seen standing there over ‘Amrs body, and those assembled knew the result of the duel.[85]

This had an immediate impact, for ‘Amrs companions who had got past the trench began to flee in some confusion, as did the larger force under Abu Sufyan. Indeed, so fast did the Meccans run away that Ikrima, son of the former Meccan leader Abu Jahl threw away his spear as he was fleeing, prompting Hassan b. Thabit to compose the mocking rhyme: ‘as you turned your back you ran like the ostrich turning its head from right to left, you didn’t turn your back as a human being would, the base of your neck was like a young hyena’.[86]  One man called Mughira was stoned to death as he fell into the trench from his horse as he fled.[87]

Yet the Meccans returned to the attack. A Muslim follower called al-Dar was killed by an arrow, while Wahshi, an Abysinnian in Meccan pay who had killed Muhammad’s uncle Hamza at Uhud managed to slay another Muslim follower with his javelin.[88]

Nevertheless, this engagement deterred the Meccans from a direct assault for another day and would have a significant psychological impact on the Meccans and their allies.

Indeed the Tarikh al-Khatib Al-Baghdadi’s author would later attribute to the Prophet the saying ‘The fighting of ‘Ali bin Abi Talib against ‘Amr bin Abd Wudd on the day of al-Khandaq (the trench) is better than the deeds of my nation until the Day of Resurrection’.

    The trial continues

  Despite this, the Meccans maintained the siege. Their cavalry ranged up and down the trench day and night, trying to goad the Muslims to come out and fight, looking for weaknesses in the defences. The Muslims would drive them off with stones and arrows, but were unable to do any serious damage, and vice versa.[89] At one point, 100 Meccan cavalry got over the trench which had leapt over the trench and were only driven back by timely use of missiles.[90]

To make matters worse for the Muslims, prevailing wind speed directions in that area probably favoured the Meccans in these archery exchanges, as the wind would come from the north.[91]

Though the arrows themselves could rarely kill a man, they could wound, leading to death. Sa’d Ibn Mu’adh was hit by an arrow which penetrated his arm where his armour did not guard it, swearing at the man who had shot the arrow ‘May your face sweat in hell’. Yet this wound caused an infection to spread, as well as his eventual death, with ‘streams’ of blood flowing out of his tent.[92] Khalid Ibn Walid may even have tried to shoot at the prophet himself, and his death would surely have ended or at the least scattered the movement, though fortunately this did not happen.[93]

As a later Meccan poet would bemoan: ‘but for this ditch to which they clung we would have wiped them all out, but it was there before them, and they, being afraid of us, skulked behind it’.[94] Yet it seemed clear that it was just a matter of time before the Meccans got across and started slaughtering Muhammad’s followers.

This increasingly wore the Muslims down psychologically, and many became increasingly fearful.[95] To make things worse, weather conditions were increasingly and unseasonably cold at this time, causing many believers to become langrous.[96] Though the Muslim supply situation was better than the Meccans, conditions were extremely unpleasant, with the Believers forced to resort to dishes of Barley and meal prepared with oil, fat and butter, which used to stick in their throats and smell badly.[97]

To make things worse, so constant were these skirmishes that the Prophet could not perform the usual prayers and rituals of his new community until after the sun had set. For a nascent religion like Islam, the standard rituals of 5 prayers a day were crucial for knitting them together into one cohesive whole ensuring group solidarity and their disruption was serious.[98]

While later Muslim historians, either during the Caliphal era and more contemporaneously, have tried to paper over divisions within the Muslim community, there was some serious issues which would come to the surface during these times.[99] The Muslim community was relatively young and divisions between the Ansar and Muhajirun, as well as the Aws and Khazraj tribes within Medina were running sores. To make things worse, the disaffected members of the Muslim community (Called ‘Hypocrites’ in the Muslim tradition) were increasingly growing in the vocalisation of their hatred for Muhammad.[100]

It must be understood that these were not Islamic supermen, capable of enduring endless torments, worry and woe. These were thinking, human, family men, whose children, wives and dependents were only one mile away in Medina, and they were being threatened with massacre or rape at any moment, while their hard-earned property and lives were also on the line. Many of the Medinans  wanted to fetch off and protect their families, complaining ‘our houses now lie exposed to the enemy – therefore give us leave’ yet that would have left the trench even more undermanned.[101] It is clear that the community’s very unity was being severely tested, and might break if a major assault occurred.[102]

An entire Sura in the Qur’an, the most contemporary document to these events, is dedicated toward the dangers of this ‘hypocrisy’, noting that many Muslims would flee if given the chance. The Qur’an would note how the enemy came from above them and below them and they believed vain things.[103] Indeed some men under ‘Amr b. Awf were unwilling to assist in the defence of Medina altogether.[104] So great was the fear, and at times confusion, that two groups of Muslims accidently fought each other in the darkness, with several killed.[105]

The combination of this psychological endurance test, hunger, the severe cold, disruption of prayer routine, fear for the children and property, as well as the constant skirmishes may well have been too much for the Muslims. At this stage, it would have been easy for the whole system of alliances which Muhammad had painstakingly built up over the last couple of years to simply collapse of its own accord as different groups sought agreements with the Meccans. So why didn’t it? The answer is simple: Muhammad’s vigorous, confident leadership, his effective management of people, as well as the Muslim community’s sheer unity.

He dealt with problems of morale by maintaining a confident front. Mu’attib b. Quashayr would crow ‘Muhammad promises us the treasure of Khusrau and Caesar, (the rulers of Persia and Byzantium) yet none of us feels sure to go even for his need (relieve oneself). God and his messenger promise us only deception’.[106]

So Muhammad answered this: ‘I will circumambulate the ancient house (the Kaaba) for god will destroy Khusrau and Caesar and their wealth will be paid in the way of god’.[107] Muhammad also immediately proclaimed those killed at night accidentally as martyrs, giving their loss some meaning.

The prophet dealt with the problem of disrupted prayer rituals by offering the prayers after sunset, swearing ‘Allah fill their houses and graves with fire just as they have prevented us from offering the middle prayer till the sun had set’.[108]

The Prophet would constantly try to keep spirits up, shouting ‘Allah, please send us Sakina (calmness) upon us, and make our feet firm if we meet the enemy!’ [109]

According to Asim b. ‘Umar the prophet may even have tried to divide the alliance, offering a third of the Medinan date harvest to the Bedouin Ghatafan tribe, a major alliance member, who however asked for half of the produce.[110] At this stage, the wounded Sa’d Ibn Mu’adh entered into the tent where the negotiations were taking place. He inquired as to when they had ever paid the Ghatafan the date harvest before. He also inquired as to whether god had truly told Muhammad to make this decision: Muhammad responded that he was simply trying to save the Muslims from annihilation, yet Sa’d would have none of it.

He impassionedly persuaded Muhammad not to become a Ghatafan tributary, tearing the paper on which the agreement was being signed while shouting to the Ghatafan leader, ‘Uyayna b. Hisn ‘Now there is nothing between us but the sword! Let it decide the outcome!’[111] This left the Prophet and his men with only two choices: fight a battle they would probably lose, or find some way to divide the alliance.

The siege concludes 

Yet it now seemed as if there would be an immediate assault on Medina from two sides by an overwhelmingly superior force as the Meccans pressurised the Banu Qurayza to assault Muhammad from one side while they attacked him from another.

Faced with this threat, Muhammad realised that arms alone would not win the battle. He responded by careful political manoeuvring instead. He picked the solution in the form of Nu’aym Ibn Mas’ud. Nu’aym belonged to the Ghatafan, the second most powerful tribe in the alliance.[112] He had secretly converted to Islam and wanted to help Muhammad and his followers. Muhammad asked him to try to sow disunity within the alliance, with the hope that it might break up.[113] Nu’aym first went to the Banu Qurayza, with whom he had been on friendly terms before. He first used the death of ‘Amr B. Abd to demoralise the Jews.[114] He pointed out to them that the Meccans, for all their talk about destroying Muhammad, could flee to their homelands whenever they wanted, whereas the Banu Qurayza could not do the same. He proposed that the Banu Qurayza should therefore request for hostages from the Alliance leaders to ensure they stayed until they completely destroyed the Muslims.

Then Nu’aym set out and met with Abu Sufyan, stating that the Banu Qurayza had in fact been in league with Muhammad all along and had only ‘betrayed’ him in order to get the Meccans to hand over 70 hostages to slaughter and this caused great consternation in the camp amongst the Meccans.[115]

Nu’aym then went to his Ghatafan kinsmen, saying ‘you are my stock and my family, the dearest of men to me, and I do not trust that you can suspect me’. Then he repeated the story that he had related to Abu Sufyan, once again causing much concern and suspicion of the Banu Qurayza.[116]

The Jews proposed to Abu Sufyan that he should give them hostages, and sure enough Abu Sufyan refused, believing them to only want to lure some of his prominent men to their deaths.[117] The Alliance which Abu Sufyan had stitched together was at the end of the day an artificial, temporary creation, with many tribes which had come with different agendas. The Ghatafan for instance had come to the siege to get the Medinan date harvest, not to satisfy Abu Sufyan’s need for blood vengeance.[118] This alliance could easily carry out the operation to destroy Muhammad, but any delay, confusion or difficulty could cause these problems to surface.

As they argued over what order they should attack and destroy Muhammad’s forces, Abu Sufyan tried to force the Jews to fight, yet they delayed and equivocated, saying that they would not fight on their Sabbath (Saturday), but would fight on Sunday, and as it happened, this delay was crucial.[119] Huyayy B. Akhtab, Abu Sufyan’s chief link with the Banu Qurayza, even offered his own parents as ransom, but this did not prevent him and Abu Sufyan getting into an enormous

row. [120]

This colourful story should be taken with a pinch of salt however. There are different versions of this tale, with other oral accounts stating that Muhammad simply mentioned to Nu’aym, who was a known gossiper, that the Qurayza were working for Muhammad, knowing he would spill the news to the Alliance troops massed outside.[121] It is also said that Huyayy only related that the Banu Qurayza (and vice versa, to them, that the Meccans) wanted to attack Muhammad to lure the Jews or the Meccans into attacking the Muslims in the first place.[122] Either way, we should not overestimate Nu’aym’s – and therefore the Muslims – role in this. Many of the accounts may be apocryphal or at least exaggerated, and it may be possible that poor coordination, differing motives and communication finally helped to break the alliance and Muslim historians simply attributed the alliances collapse to the action of the Muslim community itself, rather than to chance.

In any event, the Muslims knew about none of this. On Saturday night, the night of the Jewish Sabbath, many Muslims were by now being affected by unusually cold weather conditions and were freezing, waiting in the trenches for the alliance assault.[123] Serious famine was starting to effect the Muslims as well, with morale close to breaking point.[124] ‘By god, we toiled!’ noted one witness, Hudhayfah,ibn al-Yaman, one of the prophet’s companions, when asked by his nephew years later.[125]

To assess the situation out at the Meccan camp, Muhammad called for a volunteer to go out and spy on them, but the men were too exhausted. Muhammad finally called out Hudhayfah. He inched his way over to the Meccan camp in total darkness and managed to blend in to the troops there. He even managed to get as far as Abu Sufyan’s tent. When Hudhayfah returned to the Muslim camp, the prophet waited tensely for his news. The prophet threw the edge of a wrapper over him and blessed him several times. Then Hudhayfah told his story.[126]

When he had gone to the Meccan camp, a massive cold wind was devastating the camp, and it would seem that this was what broke the Meccan siege for good. The Muslim camp was sheltered from the wind, presumably because they were in the Medina valley or sheltered by mount ‘Sal.[127] Cooking pots were turned over, tents blown down, the men freezing and the horses dying.[128] It is hard to explain these strange weather conditions. Muhammad is said to have stated that he was made victorious by the As-Saba (the Easterly wind) and by Ad-Dabur (the Westerly wind).[129]  As stated, prevailing wing conditions usually went from the north-west to the south, suggesting that these may have been very unusual weather conditions, though this is at best a guess, and either way the Meccans were very unlucky.[130]

To many of those around, this seemed as if this was truly divine intervention – the wind was a manifestation of ‘gods troops’ (angels) as Hudhayfah would later state, much like at Badr.[131]

In Abu Sufyan’s tent, Hudhayfah overheard the leader speaking to the assembled alliance leaders: ‘You, by god, are not in a land where one can stay. We are not in a permanent camp, and the horses and camels are dying.[132]  By god, no pot of ours stays put, no fire of ours keeps burning, and no tent of ours holds together. The region is suffering drought, and the Banu Qurayza have broken their promise to us. Be off, for I am going!’[133]

Abu Sufyan shamefully wanted to leave immediately, but was eventually prevailed upon to cover the retreat of the allied forces with Khalid Ibn Walid, the two arguing the rest of the way to Mecca.

Abu Sufyan wrote Muhammad a letter, promising by his gods to return and finish the job. Yet this did not happen. Muhammad wrote a letter back swearing that he would break his Idol-gods, warning ‘I shall remind you of this letter’.[134]

When it became clear the enemy were gone, the Muslims immediately went back to their homes and could not be summoned to return to their posts despite repeated entreaties, at which the prophet laughed. Nonetheless, this illustrates just how close they had been to cracking. It had been a near thing.[135]

The Prophet put down his arms and took a bath, but as the Islamic tradition states, the angel Gabriel came to him saying that he should not put his sword down but rather should finish his business with the Banu Qurayza, who without the Meccans were now dangerously exposed.[136]

So the Prophet with his full forces marched against the by now outnumbered Banu Qurayza, and besieged them in their forts, with ‘Ali crying ‘either I will taste the fate Hamza tasted or I will conquer that fort’ and the Jews surrendered. The Banu Qurayza found little mercy in their captors, and all the males were massacred, with the women and children being taken as slaves.[137]



Losses on both sides were extraordinarily light, because there was really no battle – or at least no physical battle. 6 Muslims and 3 Meccans were killed, though many Meccan horses were wounded (as were, presumably, many men on both sides) and 6-900 Jews were killed in the later massacre.[138] This event would mark the moral defeat of an enemy, which would have an effect out of all proportion to the actual fighting itself. Like many campaigns of the premodern period, the Siege was really a war of manoeuvre as both sides sized up the other. It was a political and psychological battle of wits, manoeuvre and will, supply and intelligence.

Yet if this had been the battle that never was, it was just as well it hadn’t been. Historians like Montgomery Watt are agreed that the siege of al-Khandaq might well have ended Muhammad’s career. Yet it ultimately did not.

It had a fundamental impact on the way the war went, despite the low casualties. The break-up of the confederacy marked the utter failure of the Meccans to deal with Muhammad.[139] The trench broke Abu Sufyan’s alliance, damaged his prestige, and marked the beginning of his fall. As has been explained at the start of this book, alliances and tribes in this day and age were far more brittle than they were now, and setbacks could undermine them seriously.[140]  Most of the major political players of the Hijaz had been present during the siege and had seen its results. They had come expecting, if not an easy victory, at least glory, booty, and the destruction of a new power in their midst. Instead, the Campaign had been a gigantic waste of time. It was hardly a rout, but it was no glorious victory, and in the religious-material-symbolic way that these tribes weighed things up, this counted for a lot. For Muhammad, this was a triumph, acting as a demonstration ground for all the other tribes that he could not be beaten.[141] It also the Medinan malcontents known as the ‘hypocrites’, who might have turned against Muhammad and the Muslims.[142]

For a society which was in spiritual turmoil, looking for new ways to organise their society and new ways to look at the world, the wind and the failure of the alliance to crush Muhammad when they had had their boot on his throat was a clear indication that God was on the Muslims side. This was especially when combined with similar events at Badr.[143]  It was also a clear indication to the more materially-minded Bedouin tribes like the Ghatafan that Abu Sufyan could not provide any opportunities for loot in future, and they were better off siding with Muhammad. During negotiations, individuals like Uyayna B. Hisn, leader of the Ghatafan tribe realised that the people in Medina would ‘give themselves’ for Muhammad, and that any booty or tribute from the Muslim community would not come cheaply, and it was better sought in alliance with the Muslims, not against them.[144] The taking of large quantities of booty – weapons, animals, horses, property of various types, and slaves – from the Jews at relatively little cost was a further indication, both to the hypocrites, and also to these different tribes, that this new movement would be the source of any future booty, as was clearly outlined in the Qur’an ‘Some you slew and some you took captive. And he bequethed to you in their land and the dwellings, their riches, and a land you have not trodden, for god is omnipresent’.[145]

Another crucial factor in this process was the use of media. Most media throughout Arabia at this time was oral, and culture was dominated by poets as well as those who could whip up crowds into religious fervour: Muhammad could clearly do this himself as can be seen in the Qur’anic verses on Badr, (sura 8) and on the new Al Ahzab verse (Sura 33) which outlined the role of booty. Yet Muhammad was also careful to use poets like Hasan b. Thabit to eulogise on each of the major military events in his life, and the events of the trench were no exception.[146] The high drama of ‘Ali’s fight with ‘Amr, the tenacity of the Muslims, and the presence of ‘Gods troops’ in the destruction of the Meccan camp by the wind were all helpful oral-mnemonic ‘texts’[147] which could be integrated into mythmaking and religious symbolism quite easily. All helped to demonstrate that even at its lowest ebb, the Muslim community could always escape destruction and ultimately had god’s favour.

While the battle of Badr was certainly very important as the first major victory of Islam, it did not fundamentally threaten the Muslim community’s existence – Muhammad’s forces could retreat to Medina if beaten, bloodied, but not finished, as at Uhud. But at the trench they had nowhere to go. If they lost, the movement would be destroyed. Winning at Badr did not stop the Meccans putting new armies in the field. Not losing at the trench did.

Ultimately, Muhammad’s letter to Abu Sufyan (above) was born out, and the Meccans would never be able to organise an effective assault against Medina or even Muhammad’s army in the field ever again. Muhammad and the Muslim movement would grow, as one tribe after another allied with him or was defeated by his forces. So chastened, divided and demoralised had the Meccans become that when in 628 Muhammad’s forces boldly marched into the region of Mecca, the Meccans, who still probably outnumbered his forces heavily, were unable to unify long enough to crush him or even assemble an army. Instead they decided to draw up a treaty with him. Eventually, though, Muhammad’s power grew too great. In January CE he marched on Mecca with his full army, forcing Abu Sufyan to surrender and convert to Islam, though he would continue to be a major figure within the Islamic hierarchy and his son Mu’awiya would create the ruling Umayyad dynasty 30 years hence. The epitome of the Muslim victory was a moral victory. Arms had been used and considerable blood had been spilt, but it had been focused, designed to eliminate or co-opt the leadership class, through demonstration and manoeuvre. This strategy was immensely succesful, and left the Muslim leadership in control of a large amount of skilled military manpower.

Muhammad promptly demolished most of the polytheist idols in the Kaaba. He also unified most of Arabia for the first time, gradually changing its society from a dispersed set of tribes into one major community, or Umma, though tribal and other affiliations would remain to some degree. Yet Arabia had been irrevocably changed. It had gained a new way of life, something which affects the lives of nearly of a quarter of humanity to this very day.

So why did the Muslims win? Ultimately, the Muslims internal divisions proved to be less than those of the allies. This was achieved through their rigid insistence on a routine of prayer, and greater communal cohesion. Ultimately their leadership proved to be better, despite Sufyan’s great intelligence. Muhammad’s skilled management of the right people for the right job, like Salman the Persian for his construction of the trench, ‘Ali for his defeat of ‘Amr, and Nu’aym to stir up trouble in the alliance was also decisive. Ultimately, their supplies proved to hold out longer than their enemies did. And ultimately their willpower proved to hold out longer than their enemies did.[148]

Indeed, the lines from the Qur’an 2.214 ‘Do you think that you shall enter the gates of bliss without such trials as went before’ are of special importance – Muhammad’s forces had to face the trial of being so close to annihilation that they could almost taste it. Their success was that they triumphed in adversity, using psychology, intelligence, and extreme willpower and determination to face down their enemy and would emerge to become the world religion with the greatest number of practising adherents today.[149]

Would the world be better or worse without Islam? It is easy to make the superficial argument that modern terrorism generally would be lessened. Yet in reality the world would not be better off. Islam reunified – however briefly – the Middle East, and led to an efflorescence of civilisation in areas such as Baghdad and Cordoba in Spain. The massive good that Islam has done throughout its history would be severely lessened: the scientific golden age of Cordoba is something well-known to have acted as a crucial step in the march to the renaissance, enlightenment and Industrial revolution from which all the modern things we take for granted – algebra, blood circulation, chemistry, colleges, and modern astronomy have developed.

Had Muhammad and the Muslim movement been crushed, surely the chain of events we associate after him would have been quite different. The invasion of Byzantium would, if it had been made at all, been made by far less united tribal Arabs, as can be seen with Abu Sufyan’s ultimate failure to unify and inspire the tribes under his leadership. Arabia, divided as it was between so many different tribal structures, needed a new vision, and a powerful, relatively unified military force to achieve this. And it must be borne in mind that even with Islam, the Ummah very nearly collapsed on the prophet Muhammad’s death with the division between the Ansar and Emigrants. Even if the Arabs were successful, any polity they would have generated would probably have ultimately collapsed due to lack of Islamic religiously-based unity, and would have had little importance except as yet another transient nomadic invasion that would have had no real long – term impact on humanity. Yet the religion of Islam, tempered by experiences like the Trench and mediated by a new leadership class under the Rashidun Caliphs(‘Rightly guided’, or first four Caliphs, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and ‘Ali), would keep the community unified. The Caliphs harnessed the nomadic Bedouin for the first time and unified the settled and nomadic communities in Arabia into one major power, which would have immense military potential, something which the Byzantine and Sassanian empires would soon discover.

 A story is told of the prophet while he was digging the trench: One day, a huge rock was discovered in the way of the trench, preventing any further digging of this trench. The prophet took a mattock and swung it at the rock, causing lightning to emit from it when he struck, with the lightening travelling south, to Yemen. He struck it again, and lightning struck north to the land of Al-Sham (Syria.) Then he struck a third time, and the lightening passed toward the east, and the rock broke.

With these blows, Muhammad declared that he had claimed Yemen, then Syria from the Byzantine empire and then the East from the Sassanians. This is the next chapter in the story of Islam.[150]


© Ronan Stewart.

Written by Ronan Stewart.  


DEAR ALL: Please note I intend to write a book about decisive, non-Western battles called ‘World battles’ which should be coming out over the next few years, so if you are interested in this, keep an eye out!


 Primary sources

‘Ali, Abdullah Yusuf (Trans), The Holy Qur’an (Hertforshire, Wordsworth, 2000)

Ibn Anas, Malik,  Muwatta Hadith. (PDF)

al-Bukhari, Muhammad ibn Ismail  Sahih al – bukhari,  trans. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, (Beirut, dar-al-arabia, 1959)

Different version:

Bukhari, Abu Abdullah.   M. Muhsin Khan (trans), Sahih Bukhari, (2009)

Al-Tabari, Muhammad Ibn Jarir trans. Michael Fishbein, The history of al-Tabari, the victory of Islam, vol. 8 (New York, State university of New York Press, 1999)

Ishaq, Ibn.  Guillaume Alfred (trans) Life of  Muhammad, (Oxford, Oxford university press, 1955)

Al Waqidi, Rizwi Faizer, The Life of Muhammad, (London, Routledge, 2011)


                                                            Online sources


Konkar, pp. 34-36. Encyclopaedia of nations: Saudi arabia, http://www.nationsencyclopedia.com/geography/Morocco-to-Slovakia/Saudi-Arabia.html  accessed 9 October 2012. , ‘complete survey of wind behaviour over the Arabian Gulf’, King Abdulaziz city for science and technology, Energy research institute, Riyadh.


                                                             Journal article



Eberstadt, Nicole and Shah, Apoorva ‘Fertility decline in the Muslim world, c. 1975-c. 2005’, in Population dynamics on Muslim countries: Assembling the Jigsaw Hans Goth, Alfonso Souso-Goso (Berlin, Springer, 2012)






Bushamail, Muhammad Ahmad. the Great Battle of Badr, (Lahore, Islamic publications, 1971)

Donner, Frederick M. Muhammad and the believers: at the origins of Islam (Harvard, Harvard university press, 2010)

Gabriel, Richard A.  Muhammad, Islam’s first general (Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma press 2007)

Glubb, John B. The life and times of muhammad, (London, hodder and stoughton, 1965)

Hamidullah, Muhammad.  The Battlefield of the Prophet Muhammad, (New Delhi, Kitab Bhavan, 1983/2003)

Jones, JMB  ‘Ibn Ishaq and al-Waqidi: the dream of ‘Atika and the raid to Nakhla in relation to the charge of plagiarism’ in Uri Rubin ed., Lawrence I Conrad gen. ed., The life of Muhammad, vol. 4, (Aldeshot, Hampshire, Ashgate publishing 1998)

Kennedy, Hugh. Armies of the Caliphs, (Oxford, Oxford university press, 2001) The prophet and

and  the age of the Caliphates, (Harlow, Pearson education ltd., 2004)

Lings, Martin. Muhammad, his life based on the earliest sources (Cambridge, George Allen, 1983/2002)

Narayan, B.K.  Mohammed the prophet of Islam (Delhi, Lancer publishers, 1989)

Nicolle, David. Armies of the Muslim Conquest (Oxford, Osprey, /2004)7th reprint.

Rodinson, Maxine. Mohammed, (Club Francais de Livre, 1968/1971)

Stillman,Yedida Kalfon.  Stillman, Norman A. Arab dress: a short history, (Leiden, Koninklijke, 2003)

Tosh, John. The pursuit of history (Harlow, Pearson education ltd, 2006)

Watt, Mongomery. Muhammad at Medina, (Oxford, Oxford university press, 1956/1968)

[1]Al Waqidi, Rizwi Faizer, trans, The Life of Muhammad, (London, Routledge, 2011) p. 242

[2]This reconstruction of Islamic arms, armor and tactics is based heavily around Hugh Kennedy, Armies of the Caliphs, (Oxford, oxford university press, 2001) and the Popularising David Nicolle, Armies of the Muslim Conquest (Oxford, Osprey, /2004)7th reprint. As well as Yedida Kalfon Stillman, Norman A. Stillman, Arab dress: a short history, (Leiden, Koninklijke, 2003)p. 19. Also note the sources on the specific armies at the trench below, especially Ibn Ishaq, Waqidi, and Tabari.

[3]Jones, JMB  ‘Ibn Ishaq and al-Waqidi: the dream of ‘Atika and the raid to Nakhla in relation to the charge of plagiarism’ in Uri Rubin ed., Lawrence I Conrad gen. ed., The life of Muhammad, vol. 4, (Aldeshot, Hampshire, Ashgate publishing 1998).

[4] Nicole Eberstadt and Apoorva Shah ‘Fertility decline in the Muslim world, c. 1975-c. 2005’, in Population dynamics on Muslim countries: Assembling the Jigsaw Hans Goth, Alfonso Souso-Goso (Berlin, Springer, 2012)p. 12.

[5] It is hard to explain to Westerners the deep disgust ancient and many modern Muslims had for the idea of ‘idols’ or associating ‘partners’ with god, yet it was a major issue which affected Islamic interaction with most other faith systems throughout its history.

[6] Tribes at this time dominated individual urban spaces in Arabian cities.

[7] Fred Donner, Muhammad and the believers: at the origins of Islam (Harvard, Belknap press, 2010) pp. Xiv, 57-58. According to Fred Donner, they were initially called ‘the believers movement’, basing his assessment on the far more common references to ‘Believers’ in the Qur’an (the most contemporary document to these events) rather than to ‘Muslims’. This piece shall mainly use the term ‘Muslims’ in this specific context.

[8] See Qur’an, Sura 8 and its description of the battle of Badr. The importance of religious literature and its legitimation by battle is something which this study shall skirt, however it is of immense importance.

[9]  Muhammad Ibn Jarir Al-Tabari, trans. Michael Fishbein, The history of al-Tabari, the victory of Islam, vol. 8 (New York, State university of New York Press, 1999)p. xiv.

[10]Richard A. Gabriel, Muhammad, Islam’s first general (Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma press 2007)p.131.

[11]Watt, Mongomery. Muhammad at Medina, (Oxford, Oxford university press, 1956/1968), p. 31-34.

[12]Fishbein in Tabari, the history p. xiv. This is an immensely crude summary of the first years of the Muslim community and much has been left out or oversimplified.

[13] Al Waqidi, the life, p. 217.

[14] Gabriel, Islam’s first general, pp. 132-133. Hamidullah, battlefield, p. 72.Black mercenaries: Ishaq, Life, p. 452. B.K. Narayan, Mohammed the prophet of Islam (Delhi, Lancer publishers, 1989)p. 89. Meccans: Martin Lings, Muhammad, his life based on the earliest sources,(George Allen,  Cambridge 1983) 4th impression, p. 215.

[15] Glubb, John B. The life and times of muhammad, (London, hodder and Stoughton, 1965) p. 245.Watt, Medina, p. 37.

[16] Cavalry: Al Waqidi, the life, pp. 244, 256. The Banu Qurayza are also supposed to have had ‘36’ cavalry during the siege, suggesting that this number may be an approximate guess or numerical platitude of some sort applied to Jewish tribes and cavalry or soldier numbers in general rather than the exact number, though the number was clearly very small and they had limited impact in the siege apart from one sally where they supposedly drove off Khalid’s cavalry.

[17] Al Waqidi, the life, p. 250. The number of ‘700’ warriors seems to have applied to the Banu Nadir as well, suggesting another numerical platitude.

[18]Watt, Medina, p. 249.

[19] Another comparative is the Theban sacred band, though obviously the main difference is that these were paired homosexual warriors.

[20]Watt, Medina, p. 37. That said, this idea is largely based on two battles, at Badr and Uhud. In the first, the Meccan troops had been made extremely tired due to lack of water as well as internal disagreements. In the second battle, it is possible that the initial Meccan ‘almost-defeat’ was really an elaborate false retreat (kar-wa-farr) to get the Muslims off the mountain of Uhud so their cavalry could fall on their exposed flanks and rear. It must be borne in mind that Meccan leaders like Khalid ibn Walid certainly did employ these tactics later on in the wars with Byzantium. So the Muslims may not have had any great superiority over the Meccans  in close quarter combat after all– it must also be borne in mind that in many cases these two groups knew or were related to each other, and whatever surprises Muhammad would have had may not have been great.

[21]We will be seeing more of this lady at the battle of Yarmuk.

[22]Al-Bukhari, sahih, 5.423.Lings, His life, p. 217.

[23] Obviously, most god-fearing Muslims would see more in this event than luck.

[24]Martin Lings, Muhammad, his life based on the earliest sources (Cambridge, 1983/2002)p.215. Gabriel, Islam’s first general, p. 132. Ibn Ishaq, Guillaume Alfred (trans) Life of  Muhammad, (Oxford, Oxford university press, 1955) p. 450. Tabari, the history, p. 8. Ultimately, Many of the Meccans would subsequently become the Umayyad ruling elite who would have every reason to distort the oral accounts on which Tabari, Ishaq, and Waqidi based their works, so as to escape their own responsibility to destroy Muhammad and his followers.

[25]Hamidullah, battlefield, p. 62. He further states ‘this was all a deep plot laid by the Jews of Khaibar’,  p. 64.

[26]See John Tosh, The pursuit of history (Harlow, Pearson education ltd, 2006) pp. 310- 332, for more on oral history and its potential for misuse as history goes on: oral accounts, by and of their nature became more distorted as time went on.

[27] That stated, Muhammad did have an alliance with the Nanu Yamama.

[28] Al Waqidi, the life, p. 218. Obviously, these speeches, much like those that are related from many other traditions, must be especially taken with a pinch of salt. Each historian often gives a rather different version of the speech, while elements can be distorted. It is hard to believe that someone took down everything that was said during all these events (especially for ‘Ali and ‘Amr’s fight) and that everything survived later editing – especially since many of the records of these events were from oral testimony of doubtful authenticity.

[29] Tabari, the history, p. 8.Al Waqidi, the life, p. 218.

[30] Narayan, Muhammad, p. 90.Al Waqidi, the life, pp. 218, 220, 222. Precise deployment of the armies is as usual open to question, and Narayan may simply mean the group which was later sent into Medina to guard against Qurayza attack.

[31] Lings, His life, p. 216.

[32] Al Waqidi, the life, p. 220.

[33]Gabriel, Islam’s first general, pp. 133-135. For instance, according to Muhammad B. Bashar-Muhammad b. Khalid Ibn ‘Athmah – Kathir b. Abdullah b. ‘Amr b. ‘Awf al-Muzani, his father said ‘the messenger of god laid out the trench in the year of the parties, from the fortress of the two shaykhs (Ujum al-Shaykhayn) on the side of the Banu Harithah (this was a tribe which had land on the northeast side of medina until it reached al Madhad.)

[34]Gabriel, Islam’s first general, p. 136.

[35]Hamidullah, battlefield, p. 68.

[36]Al-Bukhari, sahih, 5.423.Lings, His life, p. 217. Al Waqidi, the life, pp. 218, 221.

[37]Lings, His life, p. 217.

[38]Al-Bukhari, sahih, 5.140.

[39]Al-Bukhari, sahih, 5.140.

[40] Glubb, life and times, p. 242. Glubb’s translation, as with many English translations of Arabic documents, must be taken as somewhat distorted due to the problems of mutual translations between these two great but poorly compatible languages.

[41]Al-Bukhari, sahih, 4.90. Al Waqidi, the life, p. 221. Hamidullah, battlefield, p. 70.

[42]Al-Bukhari, sahih, 4.87.

[43]Al-Bukhari, sahih, 4.89. Obviously, much of this religious language will seem quite alien to many western readers. The thing to understand here is that the Muslim (and early Christian) worlds tended to assume and place most of their political, economic, and social stances in religious terms, trying to relate their concept of reality to their conception of god in some way.

[44]Lings, His life, p. 217. Al Waqidi, the life, p. 220.

[45] Ishaq, Life, p. 450.

[46] Al Waqidi, the life, p. 219.

[47] Ishaq, Life, p. 451.Lings, His life, p. 218.

[48] Ishaq, Life, p. 451. This may be a distorted version of the Prophet’s use of boiling vinegar (or water) to break the rock apart: Hannibal used a similar method to destroy a rock in the Alps which was blocking his army getting over the mountains.

[49] Al Waqidi, the life, p. 216.

[50]Lings, life, p. 222.

[51]Narayan, Muhammad, p. 90.

[52]Tabari, the history, p. 18. Lings, life, p. 222.

[53]Lings, life, p. 220. Al Waqidi, the life, p. 218.

[54]Kennedy, prophet, p. 39. Ishaq, Life, p. 454.Tabari, the history, pp. 5, 17. Al Waqidi, the life, pp. 216, 241. Watt, Muhammad, p. 35.

[55]Rodinson, Mohammed, p. 211. Hamidullah, battlefield, p. 66.

[56] Al Waqidi, the life, p. 218. Glubb, life and times, p. 245.

[57]  Al Waqidi, the life, p. 218.

[58] Al Waqidi, the life, pp. 218, 232.

[59]Tabari, the history, p. 15. Al Waqidi, the life, p. 222. The speeches here are especially hard to believe as most of these individuals were killed by the Muslims, unless they dictated everything at their trial.

[60] Ishaq, Life, p. 453. Al Waqidi, the life, p. 222.

[61] Ishaq, Life, p. 453. Tabari, the history, p. 16.

[62] Ishaq, Life, p. 453. Tabari, the history, p. 16.

[63] Al Waqidi, the life, p. 225. Narayan, Muhammad, p. 91. The number ‘700’ may be yet another numerical platitude applied to Jews as it is applied to other Jewish tribes.

[64] Al Waqidi, the life, p. 221.

[65] Lings, His life, p. 222.Al Waqidi, the life, p. 225-227.

[66] Al Waqidi, the life, p. 225.

[67] Al Waqidi, the life, p. 232. As we will discover, early Arab and Islamic women, coming from a culture where women were quite independent in some respects, often taking part in the fighting during battles, but they had a much bigger impact when fighting the Byantines at Yarmuk.

[68]Ishaq, Life, p. 449.

[69] Tabari, the history, p. 22. Ishaq, Life, p. 458. It is possible that this story is a literary error of some sort, because a similar story is told about Safia in a different context at Uhud.

[70] Al Waqidi, the life, pp. 221, 234.

[71] Glubb, life and times, p. 245.

[72]Kennedy, prophet, p. 90. Even if the Meccans did not have tools, it frankly seems rather ridiculous that they could not simply fill the trench in under cover from their archers. Rather it seems that Abu Sufyan, busy trying to secure a relatively costless victory, exhausted himself and his alliance.

[73]Tabari, the history, p. 18. Ishaq, Life, p. 454. Al Waqidi, the life, p. 230.

[74]Al Waqidi, the life, p. 229. The Muslim infantry would presumably have been pinned down trying to stop the far more numerous alliance heavy infantry coming over the trench – and the second they moved to counter the cavalry, the infantry would get over the trench: they were simply spread too thin.

[75] Ishaq, Life, p. 455.

[76] Ishaq, Life, p. 455.

[77] Al Waqidi, the life, pp. 74, 230. Ishaq, Life, p. 453. Of course a lot of this could be exaggerated to play up ‘Ali.

[78]Al Waqidi, the life, p. 230. Ishaq, Life, p. 455.

[79] Al Waqidi, the life, p. 230.

[80]Tabari, the history, p. 18. It is possible that it was one of two alternatives – Islam or death – according to Ibn Ishaq or Tabari. Ishaq, Life, p. 455.

[81] Ishaq, Life, p. 455.

[82]Tabari, the history, pp. 18-19. Or possibly there was only two options as in Ishaq, Life, p. 456.

[83] Ishaq, Life, p. 455.

[84] Ishaq, Life, p. 456.

[85] Ishaq, Life, p. 456.

[86] Ishaq, Life, p. 457. This poetic propaganda was as we will see of immense importance to Arabians.

[87]Tabari, the history, pp. 18-19. Al Waqidi, the life, p. 230.

[88]Tabari, the history, pp. 18-19. Ishaq, Life, p. 456. Al Waqidi, the life, p. 231.

[89]Lings, His life, p. 223. Narayan, Muhammad, p. 90. Some Meccan horses may have been wounded, (and many presumably died from starvation) but their losses were certainly not that serious – The Meccan cavalry stayed more or less intact to the end.

[90] Al Waqidi, the life, p. 227.

[91]Konkar, pp. 34-36. Encyclopaedia of nations: Saudi arabia, http://www.nationsencyclopedia.com/geography/Morocco-to-Slovakia/Saudi-Arabia.html  accessed 9 October 2012. Obviously, prevailing wind directions may well have changed since then so this is merely a guess.

[92]Ishaq, Life, p. 457.Tabari, the history, pp. 20-21.

[93] Al Waqidi, the life, p. 228.

[94]Ibn Hisham, p. 701, as quoted in Maxine Rodinson, Mohammed, (Club Francais de Livre,1968/1971)2nd ed. p. 210.

[95] Al Waqidi, the life, p. 229.

[96] Al Waqidi, the life, p. 227.

[97]Glubb, life and times, p. 245.Watt, Medina, p. 38. Al-Bukhari, sahih, 5.426.

[98]Malik Ibn Abbas, Muwatta Hadith, 11.1.4

[99]Hamidullah, battlefield, p. 69. For instance tries to pooh-pooh idea of arguments between the Ansar and Muhajirun over whether Salman the Persian should help one or the other. Watt, Medina, p. 180.

[100]Watt, Medina, p. 191.

[101]Tabari, the history, p. 16. This was Aws b. Qayzi, one of the Banu Harithah b. Al –Harith.

[102]Watt, Medina, p. 191. Qur’an, 33: 10-25. Aisha notes that this Qur’anic verse came down during the very events of the Khandaq itself in Al-Bukhari, sahih, 5.429. One should also bear in mind that Ibn Ubayy and his forces had deliberately not participated in the battle of Uhud.

[103] Ishaq, Life, p. 454.

[104]Watt, Medina, p. 187.

[105] Al Waqidi, the life, p. 231.

[106] Ishaq, Life, p. 454.Tabari, the history, p. 13.Al Waqidi, the life, p. 225.

[107] Ishaq, Life, p. 454. Al Waqidi, the life, p. 225. Note that this speech, as indeed are many of the others, is a very retrospective in its understanding of history.

[108]Al-Bukhari, sahih,  5.438, 1.570- 1.574.

[109]Al-Bukhari, sahih, 5.430.

[110]Narayan, Muhammad, p. 91. A tributary position would have essentially been an admittance that Medina was in an inferior position to the Ghatafan.

[111]Ishaq, Life, p. 454.Lings, life, p. 224. Al Waqidi, the life, pp. 234-235.

[112]Lings, His life, p. 225.

[113]Ishaq, Life, p. 458.Tabari, the history, p. 23. Al Waqidi, the life, p. 235.

[114]Al Waqidi, the life, p. 236.

[115] Ishaq, Life, p. 459. Al Waqidi, the life, p. 235.

[116] Ishaq, Life, p. 458.

[117]Al Waqidi, the life, p. 236.

[118] Fishbein, the history p. xiv. Gabriel, Islam’s first general, p. 137. Lings, His life, p. 215. Al Waqidi, the life, p. 237. Many of the tribesmen amongst the Bani Sulaym had converted to Islam, though most were not present in the alliances army for that very reason.

[119] Ishaq, Life, p. 459. Al Waqidi, the life, pp. 236-237.

[120]Al Waqidi, the life, p. 237.

[121]Al Waqidi, the life, p. 238.

[122]Al Waqidi, the life, p. 238. This seems a fairly likely story.

[123]Lings, His life, p. 224.

[124]Gabriel, Islam’s first general, p. 140. Lings, His life, p. 227.Al Waqidi, the life, p. 232.

[125]Tabari, the history, p. 26.

[126]Tabari, the history, p. 27.

[127]Lings, His life, p. 227.

[128] Ishaq, Life, p. 460.Al Waqidi, the life, pp 239- 240.

[129]Al-Bukhari, sahih, 5.431. Al Waqidi, the life, p. 218.

[130]Hussam Konkar, ‘complete survey of wind behaviour over the Arabian Gulf’, King Abdulaziz city for science and technology, Energy research institute, Riyadh, p. 35.

[131] Ishaq, Life, p. 460.Al Waqidi, the life, pp. 239- 240. Similar angelic intervention in the form of wind and sandstorms is attributed to the battle of Badr, suggesting a group psychological process of placing events into a religious context which was in turn placed on paper and canvass.

[132]The effect of a wind may seem like a minor issue, however the loss of horses or camels would have been a subject of horror to an equestrian people such as this: as well as this, it would have been an immediate indication of the death of the army soon if supplies were running out.

[133] This speech is an amalgam of all three of these sources: Ishaq, Life, p. 460. Tabari, the history, p. 27.Al Waqidi, the life, p. 248.

[134]Al Waqidi, the life, p. 245. The Ghatafan parted company with the Meccans on the road to Mecca and dispersed to their pastures.

[135]Al Waqidi, the life, p. 241.

[136]Al-Bukhari, sahih, 4.68. Ishaq, Life, p. 461.Tabari, the history, p. 28.

[137]Al-Bukhari, sahih, 5.448. Fishbein, the history p. xv. Gabriel, Islam’s first general, p. 142.Ishaq, Life, pp. 456- 469, 479-482. Kennedy, prophet, p. 38. Narayan, Muhammad, p. 93. Tabari, the history, p. 28. Al Waqidi, the life, pp. 234-261. Watt, Medina, p. 214. Rather than getting pinned down in this controversial topic, it has been decided to focus on the overall importance of these events.

[138]Watt, Medina, p. 37.

[139]Watt, Medina, p.39.

[140]Kennedy, Age of Caliphates, p. 18.

[141]Rodinson, Mohammed, p. 211. Or at least not beaten without an expenditure of effort which most Hijazi groups calculated as being too costly

[142]Watt, Medina, p. 39. Kennedy, prophet, p. 39.

[143]The clear legitimacy being imparted on Islam at the battle of Badr by the Qur’an Sura 8 ‘al Anfal’, can be seen in verse 8.9, as well as in most of the early verses of this Sura which clearly outline spoils of war.

[144]Al Waqidi, the life, p. 235.

[145] See Qur’an 33.9-33:28, esp. 33.27-33.29.

[146] That stated though, it is not unlikely that much of the poetry written about the trench in fact comes from long after it and was produced for, or distorted by the time it got to, Waqidi Ishaq and Tabari.

[147] See again Tosh, pursuit of history pp. 310- 332.

[148]Watt, Medina, p.38. Fishbein, the history p. xiv.

[149]Al Waqidi, the life, p. 243.

[150] Al Waqidi, the life, p. 220.

A History of Granby Park

On Thursday, 22nd August 2013 a new, if brief, ‘pop-up’ park staffed by volunteers was opened on Dublin’s north-side inner city. This is Granby park, the newest addition to many new exciting voluntary projects going on around the city. This is also an opportunity for us to reflect on the problems of lack of services such as parks and general recreational facilities, and of course, housing, for most of Dublin, especially in the recession-lashed Northside inner city.

Yet it is also an opportunity to reflect on the city’s past, and learn from it, as well as some of the mistakes and problems which have occurred when it came to making decisions about how to manage housing. It is an opportunity to reflect on the past greatness which the recently derelict site of Granby possesses. And it is an opportunity to reflect on the vivid and varied tapestry of humanity and stories of people who lived out their lives here, growing up, marrying, having children then finally passing away.

I will thus attempt to provide a brief history of Dominick Street, focusing on the area around Granby Park wherever possible.

A composite map of Dublin up till 1540. Note St. Mary’s Abbey as well as the few roads which would form the basis of the Northside. Courtesy: Ordinance Survey Ireland, and Richview library.

The area of Granby and Dominick Street did not exist before the 18th century. Before that, this area had been in the medieval parish of St. Mary’s Abbey, then the following church. Though it is hard to conceive now, the concrete-enclosed Dominick street area seems to have consisted mainly of orchards and vegetable gardens up till the 1720s at least.

The first construction work on the future Dominick Street was commissioned by Sir Christopher Dominick in the early 1720s. Dominick was a physician who had originally purchased the land in 1709. With other landlords already constructing housing estates around the local area, he built a large house on the present Dominick Street, and he leased an adjoining site to Lady Alice Hine.

This 1728 side-on map by Charles Brooking shows the area around Dominick Street as fields, with Trinity College (church tower on left) and Dublin castle (towers to the right) and the Dublin mountains in the background. This was at a time when this area was an expanding suburb not unlike noughties Dublin. Courtesy: Richview library and OS Ireland.

Dominick died in 1743 and his widow let in lots for building a new street which would be called ‘Dominick Street’ a decade later, though she kept a hold of the property in number 13. These lots were essentially carved up by different builder-speculators who were forerunners of today’s failed Celtic-boomers, though their works, unlike their distant descendants, were not destined for the ghost-town scrap-heap.

John Roque’s map of 1756, showing the first few houses of Dominick Street built on the future Granby Park, on the bottom south-east right hand side of the street. Note the Orchards and vegetable plots nearby. Courtesy: OS Ireland and Richview library, UCD.

The 1756 map of John Rocque above records five houses already constructed, on the present site of Granby Park. It is ironic that these first houses were amongst the first to meet the acquaintance of the wrecking ball during the later 1950s culls. Further building was proceeding along by 1757, with Dominick’s son-in-law, Usher St. George, letting out further lots.

Thus commenced the construction of one of the most beautiful Georgian areas of Dublin. In fact, up till 1957 Dominick Street was the grandest surviving Georgian Street north of the Liffey, long, broad and flanked by terraces of tall spare brick houses with pedimented stone door cases.

Amongst the most well-known builders was Robert West, who took on at least five plots on this street alone. Several of the surviving houses there were built and decorated by West (though it is possible his role in this is somewhat exaggerated), such as Nos. 39-43 and 21-22, which have surviving Rococo and Italianate frames.

No. 40 has a rather elaborate tripartite door case made of Portland stone with Scamozzian Ionic columns carved foliage panels above side lights. But the piece de resistance is at No. 20 lower Dominick Street. Its outside is very poor, but the inside sumptuously beautiful, with cherubs and various depictions of naturalistic scenes such as birds and garlands, angle cartouches, chinoiseries borders, strap work elements and busts. It was built by Robert West from 1758-1760 for the Hon. Robert Marshall, a justice in the court of Common pleas. Upper Dominick Street would have to wait and was only completed in the 1820s.

In the meantime, the area from which Granby Park itself takes its name was taking shape.

A block away to the East, the west side of Parnell square, originally known as Granby row, was laid out between 1758 and 1773 , with the first houses opening in 1766, though some sort of line had existed in Granby row as early as 1728. This Granby row was named after the then-famous Marquis of Granby, John Manners, (1721- 1770) a war hero from the Seven year’s war between Britain and France.

Granby led cavalry regiments with immense bravery during a charge at the battle of Warburg (Germany) in 1760 where they drove the French cavalry across the river Diemel, killing hundreds. His hat and wig were shot off during the battle, and he was forced to salute his commander without them. This was unusual – usually, officers had to be wearing headdress before they saluted officers. As a result, Granby’s cavalry regiment, the prestigious Royal horse guards (Blues) were allowed the tradition of saluting without their headdresses. Granby would go on to help win the battle of Villinghausen in 1761, and would eventually have numerous pubs named after him in England thanks to good treatment of troops who would go on to found these premises.

Granby lane and Granby place, which back on to Granby Park, were named after his son, Charles Manners, the fourth duke of Rutland (1754-1787) who was the viceroy and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, dying in Phoenix park lodge thanks to excessive claret (wine) consumption.

On this road, No. 29 was another house completed by Robert west in 1770. Ironically, No. 29 would supposedly be a safe-house for the Irish nationalist leader Michael Collins during the war of independence (1919-1921).

The area was heavily dominated by the aristocracy, however there was already a spattering of barristers, attorneys and physicians as well as other professionals, who would slowly become the dominant classes on these streets, because they (unlike most of the other lower classes) could afford the heavy rents.

In 1775 Emily Olivia St. George, who was the granddaughter of Sir Christopher Dominick, married the Second duke of Leinster, William Fitzgerald (1749-1804) and number 13 Dominick Street became Fitzgerald’s property.

According to Seamus Scully, the daughter of a caretaker in these two houses would later happily recount: ‘Number 13 was the residence, with lovely period furniture and a number of valuable pictures- original paintings by old masters – on the drawing and dining rooms. The hall, covered with black and white large tiling, held a cosy, covered ‘booth’ for the hall porter. Number 13’s mews were covered with an ornamental pear tree, number 14’s with Virginia creeper… a gravel path ran down the garden and there were lawns on each side, with two raised circular groups of ornamental shrubs. The Fitzgerald family, aunts, uncles, of the duke all stayed at number 13 when visiting or passing through Dublin…. they were charming people – kind, interested in their employees and their families’. Numbers 13 and 14 were the Leinster estate offices early on, with gardens running back to Granby lane.

This area was fully a part of greater historical events happening at that time, and it knew its fair share of scandal. No. 11 was occupied in the 18th century by Sir Hercules Langrishe, who helped form the Irish volunteers with Henry Grattan and Napper Tandy. However, in the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion, when the act of Union (1801) had been pushed through the Irish parliament linking both countries ‘forever’ and demolishing any sense of home rule, it would transpire that Sir Henry had accepted a bribe to abstain from the momentous vote against it!

The act of Union would cause a property crash in Dublin as many of the nobility and lords who were connected with the Irish parliament were forced to go to London to join the parliament there, taking their money, and often many dependents with them, and property prices bottomed out.

This property crash would help cause the long-term flight of large numbers of the nobility from Dominick Street, and the street slowly became poorer, though the increasing population crisis which would lead to the Irish famine probably played its part along with other factors like the predominant flight of the nobility to the suburbs.

For the time being however, Dominick Street / the future Granby Park was still a prosperous area, and was increasingly occupied by working professionals like solicitors and surgeons. If we take number 1 lower Dominick street, this was occupied by William Dargan, a railroad contractor. 20 years later, Sandham Symes, an architect, and Robert Symes, a Barrister, were at number 58, though no. 13 remained in the possession of the Dukes of Leinster. The Earl of Howth had a house at no. 41, though it was eventually sold to the Carmelite friars in 1854. This house along with numbers 39-42 were converted to a school and from 1902 it was occupied by the Sisters of the holy faith. This property was only sold in 1981 following closure.

When the Broadstone railway station opened in 1847 up the road and near the entrance to upper Dominick Street, several hotels and boarding houses were introduced to the street catering to its passengers. For example the Midland hotel took on guests from the great Midland railway from Mullingar and beyond.

By 1850, the formerly ornate no. 20 had become the school for the parish of St. Mary’s, and Dominick Street also appears in some of the later Sean O’Casey’s writings, referring to a miserable and sadistic school run by the ‘scowl-faced, pink, baldy, whorey old-headed teacher, Slogan!’

From 1846-1861 the church of St. Saviour was laid down and completed in an elegant Gothic revival style, influenced by French designs by the architect James Joseph McCarthy and now the key church for the then-expanding Dominican order.

Records of the time indicate that the population was fairly varied. Granby lane in 1847 had an inspector-general for lunatic asylums, a surgeon and a vintner, amongst others, while George cook owned one of the local board and lodging houses.

For the local area, the most common surnames, in descending order of numbers, perhaps indicates the increasing importance of Irish – Catholic Irish – in the area as time went on: Byrne, Murphy, Doyle, Lynch, Moore, Kelly, Kennedy, Smith, Farrell, Martin.

No. 36 was the birthplace of Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865), an Irish physicist and astronomer as well as mathematician, whose work included a re-assessment of the old Newtonian laws of physics and would help lead to new theories on electro-magnetism and eventually quantum mechanics. His daughters Laetitia and Eva Hamilton would go on to become Irish landscape painters.

JS Sheridan le Fanu (1814-1873), was born at 45 Lower Dominick Street into a family of Huguenots, and amongst many works he would complete one of the first modern vampire stories, Carmilla, which predated Bram Stoker’s own work by 25 years. It is a lurid tale of a vampire which winds its way into a family and starts feeding off of the daughter of an English officer.

But by then, conditions in the street were worsening. The creation of the slums started in the 1880s, and this has been blamed on the so-called slum landlords. These individuals bought the Georgian houses cheaply and sublet them, often with up to eighty people occupying one of the large houses so that they could gain maximum rent.

By 1900, half of Dominick Street had undergone a savage conversion into tenements and was essentially a slum. Often, large families (Census reports frequently indicate up to eight to a room) were reared in one room, poorly fed and clothed, and these were cruelly ideal conditions for disease.

This was not helped by an often fractious county council guided by Laisse-Faire as well as divide-and-rule policies (depending on the presiding British government of the time).

We still see glimpses of the past here, and the census reports of 1901 and 1911 along with other sources indicate that the situation was not simply a constant depression-wrought period of continuous social degradation with no hope at all reminiscent of Angela’s Ashes. Attempts were made to maintain and improve some of the dwellings there. For instance in no. 13, there was work done on the stables kept by the Duke of Leinster, probably by the contractor J and P Good around 1902-1903. Indeed, the Earl of Antrim, continued to live just around the corner in Granby row.

In 1914, two shops were reconstructed in no. 28-29 by the contractor W.A. Clarke, from Fairview. Even later on in the middle of the darkest days of the 1950s, number 24 would see the rear of a store there rebuilt so not everything was ‘Bug-Ridden, Rat infested’ doom and gloom as one later author would put it.

So what struggles did many of these, to us, seemingly anonymous individuals who lived there face? Did they find love? Did they serve in the Great War, the War of Independence, or the Civil War, either for or against any side or not care at all? Did they squander their meagre (or perhaps not-so-meagre) money, or slowly claw their way up the social ladder? Did they enjoy drinking or abstain? This cannot be answered here – but suffice it to say that for many, conditions were not pleasant. But it wasn’t always as simple as that.

At John West’s number 20, the former school, the Dominican order ran an orphanage there from 1927. Seamus Scully, who grew up here later, remembered ‘the scared children [from the orphanage] with shaven heads, clad only in unhappily uniforms and noisy hobnailed boots’

With independence, religious devotionalism was high in the 1920s, and many resorted to extreme asceticism to combat the scourge of drinking which had so badly affected many Irish people. A well-known incident involves Matt Talbot, (1856-1925) a reformed alcohol addict who had turned into an ascetic. On 7 June 1925 he apparently dropped dead on his way to the Dominican church in Granby Lane. He was found to be bound in chains and cord, revealing the full extent of the devotion to his god. He was known for his extreme devotion to the Virgin Mary and he is well respected – even revered – by religious Catholics both in Ireland and abroad and is regarded as a patron of men and women suffering from alcoholism for his battle with addiction and asceticism.

Later on in the 1930s, the Midland hotel was owned by a supporter of the Right-wing Irish politician / Soldier Eoin O’Duffy, where men would gather prior to being sent on the failed expedition to support Franco’s nationalists in the Spanish civil war.

By the 1950s the whole area was severely run-down, and moves were made to demolish much of Dominick Street so that the county council could construct new accommodation which would be better suited to the local’s needs. The demolitions started with the lower east side, then finished with the lower west side buildings.

The tenements which had been so vividly evoked by Sean O’Casey, former residences of lords and ladies past as well as the touchstones for so many stories of the great and good, were replaced in the late 1950s and early 1960s by undistinguished brick-clad galleried apartment buildings by Desmond Fitzgerald. Out of sixty-six houses recorded in 1938, only ten survived the tenement-pogroms of these once magnificent if shabby buildings.

An angered Desmond Guinness would bemoan the destruction: ‘In 1957 alone, Dublin has lost half of Dominick Street’. Nonetheless, No. 20 would survive and indeed, much of its stucco and plasterwork ceilings have recently been restored, thanks to help from the heritage council. It is currently the headquarters of the National Youth Federation.

The flats which replaced the Dominick street tenements themselves have received their fair share of criticism as being unsuited for modern living conditions, poorly fitted out, lacking in facilities and so on, and the housing project cannot really be considered a long-term success, though it has been considered that they provided ‘much needed’ accommodation for the residents. Until Now.

It is important to understand that the present plans of Dublin city council to regenerate the local economy and then placed in suspended animation due to the economic crash of 2008 is just the latest in a long line of similar debacles which were caused by unforeseen circumstances.

The planning of Dublin city’s housing has, much like any other city, been fraught with the danger of dealing with unexpected political events, environmental occurrences, and of course, recessions which can vivisect the most grandiose plans by hitting where it hurts: at the nation’s or individual’s purses.

For instance, in Eccles street prior to the 1798 rebellion, there had been plans for an extensive ring-road and railed park at the centre with roads radiating outward, yet this was scuppered unexpectedly by the death of its patron, Luke Gardiner or Lord Mountjoy, during the battle of New Ross as well as the following act of Union.

Similarly the development of the buildings around D’Olier Street which now house the Irish times was also delayed by the same act of Union which would help scupper Dominick street’s long-term prosperity, and it would hang in the air, undeveloped and looking for interested developers, for years.

Obviously, an appreciation of the history of previous failure and the consequences for residents is always something we should keep in mind – yet this is preaching a well-worn sermon that needs little further telling.

In any case, the visitors to Granby park should know one thing: they are arriving in the latest in a long line of developments of this area, however temporary. It will be exciting to see how the next chapter of Dominick Street and Granby Park will unfold. Perhaps, at last, it is time for Dominick Street to return to its former greatness.


# Please note that all map and photograph references are below the photographs themselves, and all efforts have been made to acquire permission from the relevant parties.

Douglas Bennett, The Encyclopaedia of Dublin.

Joseph V. O’Brien, Dear, Dirty Dublin: a city in distress.

Cristine Casey, Dublin, the buildings of Ireland.

Paul Clerkin, Dublin street names

Maurice Craig Dublin 1660-1860

Frederick O’Dwyer Lost Dublin

CT McReady Dublin street names

Peter Pearson, The heart of Dublin, resurgence of a historical city.

Seamus Scully, The Dublin Rover

Author unknown, The Dublin Almanac and register for 1947

Edel Sheriden, ‘Designing the capital city’, in Joseph Brady, Anngret Simms, Dublin through space and time

R.A. Stradling. The Irish and the Spanish civil war, 1936-1939: Crusades in conflict

Cathal Crimmins, Julia Crimmins and John Greene, ‘Architectural appraisal and environmental report on the former Irish times premises, D’Olier street and fleet street, Dublin 2’

Sources online

Archaeological Survey of Ireland Map viewer :

http://webgis.archaeology.ie/NationalMonuments/FlexViewer/ , accessed 15/09/2013.

Census of Ireland 1901 & 1911:

http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/ , accessed 15/09/2013.

Dictionary of Irish architects:

http://www.dia.ie/   ,   accessed 15/09/2013.

Ordnance Survey Ireland online:

http://maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/#V1,591271,743300,0,10 , accessed 15/09/2013.

‘The battle of Warburg’ :

http://www.britishbattles.com/seven-years/warburg.htm , accessed 15/09/2013.


Special thanks to Julia Crimmins, Building conservationist, as well as the staff of Richview library, University college Dublin.

About the Author: Ronan Stewart

Independent researcher living in Dublin, recently completed a masters in History from the University of Cambridge.