By: Mir M.Hosseini
The Siege of Ctesiphon by the Arab army lasted about two months, from January to March 637. Ctesiphon, located on the east bank of the Tigris, was an imperial capital of the Sassanid Empire. Soon after the conquest of the city by Arabs, Sassanid rule in Iraq ended.
Ctesiphon, 30 km southeast of modern Baghdad, Iraq measured 30 square kilometers. The only visible remnant today is the great arch Taghekasra located in what is now the Iraqi town of Salmanpak.
After the decisive victory of Arabs at the Battle of Qadesiya, Caliph Omar appointed his commander Saad Ibn Vaghas to capture the Sassanid capital, although Mehestan of Iran had already approved moving the capital from Ctesiphon.
In December 636, Saad marched with a Caliph army of 15,000 towards Ctesiphon while the Sassanid king Yazdgerd 3 had already deserted the city in hopes of gathering a new army. Defenders of the city were mainly those survivors of the Battle of Qadesiya.
Saad organized a strong advance guard and divided the rest of his army into four corps. Under the commanders Abdullah ibn Mutim, Shurahbeel ibn Assamt, Hashem ibn Utba and Khalid bin Arfatah. Saad himself moved with the corps of Khalid bin Arfatah.
From Qadesiya, the main stages on the route to Ctesiphon were Najaf, Burs, Babylon, Sura, Deir Kab, Kusa, Sabat. The advance guard of cavalry under the charge of Zuhra ibn Al-Hawiyya was directed to move towards Ctesiphon and wait until the main army arrived in case of encountering large detachments of the Sassanid army. They occupied Najaf and stayed there till the other corps reached Najaf. Then Zuhra crossed the Euphrates and proceeded to Ctesiphon. He reached Burs on the western bank of the Hilla branch of the Euphrates, where he crushed a small resistance. Then he captured Babylon, an ancient city on the bank of the Euphrates. Due to their resistance, the citizens of Babylon were massacred. Small cities of Deir Kab, and Kusa shared the same faith despite despite their gallant commander who became martyr defending his nation.
In the second week of January 637, the Caliph advance guard reached Sabat, 6 km from Ctesiphon. Ctesiphon was a conglomeration of several cities. Indeed the Arabs called Ctesiphon Al-Madaen, meaning the cities. The main city lay on the eastern bank of the Tigris. The part of the city on the western bank of the Tigris was known as Bahrseer.
Invaders advance to Ctesiphon was delayed by skirmishes on the route to Ctesiphon giving Persians some time to arrange for the defense of the city. Bahrseer had been well prepared for defense, and a deep ditch had been dug round the perimeter of the suburb. As the Arab advance guard approached Bahrseer, the Persian garrison within the fortified city hurled stones at the Arabs through catapults. The Arabs pulled back beyond the range of the projectiles and laid siege to the city.
The siege began in January 637, and dragged on for two months. The supplies from the countryside on which Bahrseer depended were entirely cut off. It was here that Arabs first used siege equipment made for them by enslaved Persian engineers. In March 637, the Sassanid garrison called forth from the city in the determined effort to break the siege. Arab chronicles record an interesting duel between a lion and Arab commander Hashem, it is said that the Sassanid forces were led by a fierce lion which had been specially trained for war. The lion rushed at the Arab front, and the Arab horses bolted. Hashem Ibn Utbah is said to have rushed at the lion and delivered such a well directed blow that it fell dead. Exactly who commanded the Sassanid army there is not certain, however Arab chronicles record that the Sassanid commander was killed in a duel by Zuhra. Later that evening Zuhra was stuck by an arrow and died. The Caliph forces captured Bahrseer and sacked it.
A Persian courier came to the Arab camp to convey a message from the Persian emperor. The Persian emissary is reported to have said:
"Our emperor asks if you would be agreeable to peace on the condition that the Tigris should be the boundary between you and us, so that whatever is with us on the eastern side of the Tigris remains ours and whatever you have gained on the western side is yours. And if this does not satisfy your land hunger, then nothing would satisfy you."
Saad, however insisted on the usual term, Jaziyah (a tax levied for assimilation of non-Arabs) or the sword. Iranians preferred to fight.
After occupation of Bahrseer, only the Tigris, half a mile wide, lay between the Arabs and Ctesiphon. The Sassanid forces in Ctesiphon were commanded by General Mehran. Arabs found a site downstream where the river could be forded. A band of six hundred volunteer horsemen under Asim ibn Amr crossed over to the other bank. A detachment of Sassanid cavalry intercepted the approaching Arabs but the invading forces overpowered the Persian cavalry and routed them and landed on the eastern bank of the Tigris. From the river bank the Caliph forces marched to the city of Ctesiphon, led by the column of Asim ibn Amr. Iranian forces were too few to offer an effective resistance against Arabs and were massacred in Ctesiphon. The Arab columns marched through the heart of Ctesiphon plundering the city enslaving women and children The Arabs reached the White Palace, the seat of the Persian government, and occupied it. The capital City of Sassanid Persian Empire was thus captured by the invading Arab army.
A massive booty fell into the Arab hands. Caliph forces gradually conquered the Persian provinces as far as Khuzestan.
Persians continued the struggle to regain the lost territory. Thus a last standing Persian force was crushed at the Battle of Nahavand, fought in December 641. The last Persian king Yazdgerd 3 was killed in 653 during the reign of Caliph Osman. With his death Sassanid Persian Empire ended and 2 centuries of silence began.