The Great Islamic Conquests, AD 632-750, David Nicolle

The Great Islamic Conquests, AD 632-750, David Nicolle

Essential Histories 71

This book covers one of the most significant military campaigns of all time – the amazing rapid conquest of the Sassanian Empire and large parts of the Byzantine Empire by small Arabic armies. Unlike many conquerors in this area (Alexander the Great amongst them) the Arabs came to stay, and the areas that were conquered in the first century of expansion remain part of the Islamic heartland to this day.

The book starts with a useful outline of pre-Islamic Arabia and the Sassanian Empire, as well as the more familiar Byzantines, followed by a short account of the life of Muhammad and the Ridda Wars that followed his death. Nicolle then moves on to look at the origins and development of the Islamic armies and the debts they owed to their Byzantine and Sassanian neighbours, then looks at the Arab's opponents during the great conquests – the Byzantines, Sassanids, North Africans, Turks, Visigoth and Franks.

The section on the great conquests themselves is rather short, at 15 pages – I might have chosen to stop at 661, at the start of the Umayyad dynasty, by which time the Islamic armies had destroyed the Sassanian Empire and conquered Palestine, Syria and Egypt from Byzantium. By going on to the end of the Umayyad dynasty Nicolle is able to include the conquest of Spain and the invasion of southern Gaul, and the period in which the new Islamic empire became an established part of the scene, both interesting topics. Perhaps wisely Nicolle has chosen not to examine the spread of Islam in any detail, focuses mostly on the military aspects of the period.

The text is well supported by the maps, which include a good series showing Arabia and her neighbours during the pre-Islamic and conquest periods.

This book provides a good introduction and overview of a vast topic, and will be of interest to anyone who wants to understand this pivotal period in history.

Pre-Islamic Arabia
The birth of Islam and the unifying of Arabia
Armies of the Middle East and the Mediterranean
A rising religion meets tired empires
Two warriors of Arabia
The Umayyad century
The fall of the Umayyad dynasty
Architecture and Religion
A man of letters and a man of God (portrait of a civilian)

Author: David Nicolle
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 96
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2009

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