(35) Arabia - Defense, Military Tactics, Military Forces. Courage of Arab Women.
Defence -- Arabia
In the 7th century Arabia sent forth armies that attacked and conquered nearly half the then know world. But the secret of her conquests lay not in the number of her warriors, but in a resolute purpose, a unity of aim, and an enthusiasm which concentrated in itself and intensified every motive of human action. In later ages she has been reduced to the defensive, and has shown herself not always equal even to that: witness her conquest by the Turks in the 16th, and by the Egyptians in the present century. Once only, at the moment when Wahhabee union and zeal half restored for a few years the energy of early Islam, did her armies go forth to invade the neighbouring territories of Mesopotamia and Syria; but it was to plunder rather than to conquer, and the results lasted no longer than the invasions themselves.
Yet on the defensive Arabia had much in her favour, and that from many causes. The first is, that there is little to defend, since, the coast of Yemen and the districts of Bahreyn and Oman excepted, there is very little to excite the cupidity of an invading, and nothing to satisfy the exigencies of an occupying force. The second is, that the mountains nature of Yemen and Oman themselves, and the narrowness of their labyrinthine defiles, added to the extreme heat of the climate, and the scarcity of available provisions, would make even those provinces hard to attack, harder to retain. A third cause is in the broad strips of desert that gird the central districts as with a moat of sand, and send long arms of barrenness here and there into the heart of the cultivated or pastoral regions, so as to render military operations on a large scale in the interior almost impossible. A fourth and a very serious obstacle to invasion is the character of the inhabitants. Personal courage, wonderful endurance of privation, fixity of purpose, and contempt of death rare even in the bravest Europeans, are qualities common to almost every race, tribe, and clan that compose the Arab nation; and though their undisciplined troops are unfitted to meet a better trained enemy in a regular battle, in skirmishing and harassing they have few equals, while at close quarters their individual impetuosity often disconcerts the more mechanical fortitude of organized regiments. To this our own troops gave testimony in the engagements of Shenaz, 1810, and of Ras-el-Hadd, 1819 and 1820, when, with sword and spears alone, the Arabs of Oman maintained a desperate struggle against guns and bayonets, neither giving nor receiving quarter.
Arab Military Tactics
Nor are they wholly ignorant of tactics, their armies, when engaged in regular war, being divided into center, and wings, with skirmishers in front, and a reserve behind, often screened at the outset of the engagement by the camels of the expedition. These animals, kneeling, and ranged in long parallel rows, form a sort of entrenchment, from behind which the soldiers of the main body fire their matchlocks, while the front divisions, opening out, act on either flank of the enemy. This arrangement of troops may be traced in Arab records as far back as the 5th century, and has often been exemplified during the Wahhabee wars in our own day.
Military Forces -- Arabia
The military contingent of Nejd including that of all the adjoining provinces that constitute central Arabia, Jebel Shomere excepted, is reckoned by Palgrave at 47,300 from among the settled, and at about 8000 from among the nomade inhabitants. That of Shomer is estimated by the same authority at 14,000 of the first, and at about 16,000 of the second category. Oman, including the neighboring and allied districts, is said to supply about 112,000, all from towns or villages.
We thus obtain a total of about 197,300 fighting men for what represents a full half of the Arab peninsula. If, therefore, we calculate the entire military force of the land from Suez to Aden, and from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, at 400,000 fighting men, we shall probably be not far from the truth. But while remembering, on the one hand, that this is no standing army, nor composed of regular and disciplined soldiers, it should not be forgotten that, in case of invasion, their energy, and, it may be, their numbers, would be doubled by the enthusiasm of patriotism; and that not every male only, but every woman would, in the excitement of the struggle, take part in the national defence.
Courage of Arab Women
Indeed, at all times Arab women have distinguished themselves by their bravely hardly less than Arab men. Records of armed heroines occur frequently in the chronicles or myths of the pre-Islamitic time; and in authentic history the Battle of the Camel, 656 A.D., where Ayeshah, the wife of Mahomet, headed the charge, is only the first of a number of instances in which Arab amazons have taken, sword in hand, no inconsiderable share in the wars and victories of Islam. Even now it is the custom for an Arab force to be always accompanied by some courageous maiden, who, mounted on a blackened camel, leads the onslaught, singing verses of encouragement for her own, of insult for the opposing tribe. Round her litter the fiercest of the battle rages, and her capture or death is the signal of utter rout; it is hers also to head the triumph after the victory of her clan.
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Arabia - Table of Contents