Many of us know about the attack on pearl harbor. In fact, America has a day of remembrance known as Pearl Harbor day. The picture of attack planes flying overhead, shooting at American ships and personnel has been ingrained into the words Pearl Harbor. The effects of such an attack were widespread, for it signaled America’s entry into World War Two, the creation of the Pacific Theatre of War and led to a long, brutal conflict with Imperialist Japan.
World War I was unlike anything that the world had ever seen before. The chaos, tragedy and terror of mechanized warfare, combined arms, artillery and firearms forever changed the way the world would view warfare. World War I was a rude awakening as to what the nature of war would be from now on and it would live on in infamy in the hearts and minds of millions of people. The Great War, as it was called, took the lives of millions and was a bloody and brutal conflict through and through. The end was a very welcome sight amongst all of those involved, yet the final surrender of the belligerent nation, Germany, would open the door to a long, convoluted process that would ultimately culminate in the rise of Nazi Germany. This process can be linked back to one single document: The Treaty of Versailles.
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When Hannah Arendt came to Jerusalem in 1961 to attend the Eichmann trial she expected to find Evil incarnated in the person of Eichmann. How surprised she was to see the man in the glass booth. The word she used repeatedly to describe him was “mediocre,” referring to the very average qualities of his person. To Arendt the dissonance between Eichmann’s horrifying actions and the bureaucratic character of the man demanded an explanation. Like so many of us, Arendt’s conception of evil had been informed by great works of art, but the reality of this villain did not fit her expectations.
It is one of the great ironies of history that Emperor Heraclius, who rescued the Byzantine Empire from potential collapse at the hands of the Sassanid Empire, should preside over the defeat of the Byzantine army at the hands of the early Arab caliphs. The collapse of Byzantium’s military position in the near-east was sealed by the Battle of Yarmuk (also spelled Yarmouk) in AD 636.
Indeed, it is no exaggeration to state that the Battle of Yarmuk was one of the most decisive battles in history. In the course of six days, a vastly outnumbered Arab army succeeded in annihilating a significantly larger Byzantine force. This defeat led to the permanent loss of not only Syria and Palestine, but also of Egypt and large portions of Mesopotamia, and contributed in part to the rapid collapse of Byzantium’s traditional rival, the Sassanid Empire.
There was no simple explanation for Byzantium’s military failure Yarmuk. Rather, a number of factors including Heraclius flawed military strategy and leadership and the delay of the Byzantine army in responding to the early Arab incursions in the Levant, must be considered.
When Heraclius seized the throne of the Byzantine Empire from Phocas in AD 610, he inherited an empire on the verge of collapse in the wake of a successful Sassanid offensive.Until AD 622, Heraclius fought a primarily defensive war against the Sassanid’s, slowly rebuilding the remains of the Byzantine army while trying to slow the progress of the Persian offensive.
Finally, in AD 622, Heraclius was able to take the offensive into the Sassanid Empire, and he inflicted a series of crushing defeats against the Sassanid army until he was able to impose a humiliating peace treaty on the Sassanid’s in AD 628. Yet Heraclius’ victory was only achieved at great expense; over twenty-five years of continuous warfare had exhausted both the Sassanid’s and the Byzantines resources and left them both vulnerable to the invasions by the Arab army’s six years later.
The Arab invasions of the Byzantine East began modestly in AD 634 in a series of tentative raids. Yet, within a span of two years the Arabs were able to score two impressive victories over the Byzantines; the first at Ajnadayn in July 634 and the second at Pella (also known as the Battle of the Mud) in January 635. The result of these battles was the collapse of Byzantine authority throughout the Levant, culminating in the capture of Damascus in September AD 635. Why Heraclius did not respond to these early incursions is unclear.
However, the fall of Damascus finally alerted Herculius to the danger which the Arab invasions posed to Byzantine authority in the east and he organized a massive army to recapture the city. In the face of a sustained Byzantine counteroffensive, the various Arab armies’ abandoned their recent conquests in Syria and retreated to the Yarmuk river, where they were able to regroup under the leadership of Khalid Ibn al-Walid.
The Byzantines pursuit of the Arabs, however, imposed massive logistical strains on the Empire (and the local population in particular), and served to exacerbate the disputes over strategy within the Byzantine high command. Indeed, Al-Baladhuri in his chronicle of the Arab offensive, stressed that the populations of Syria and Palestine generally welcomed the Arab invaders, as they were viewed as less oppressive than the Byzantine Empire and were often willing to cooperate with Arabs against the Imperial army’s.
Even when the opposing army’s finally met, the Byzantines delayed from mid-May until the 15th of August before finally giving battle. This proved to be fatal mistake as it allowed the Arab army to gather reinforcements, scout out the Byzantine positions, and to close off the Deraa Gap, which prevented the bulk of the Byzantine army from retreating after the battle.
The battle itself occurred over the course of six days. Though the Byzantines initially took the offensive and repulsed some Muslim counterattacks, they were unable to attack the main Arab encampment. In addition, the Arab army was able to use their foot and cavalry archers to great effect, placing them in prepared positions, and were thus able to halt the initial Byzantine advance. The decisive moment came on August 20, when according to legend, a sandstorm developed and blew into the Byzantine army, allowing the Arabs to charge the Byzantine line en-masse. The Byzantines, cut off from their main axis of retreat, were systematically massacred. The exact losses are unknown, though Al-Baladhuri states that up to 70,000 Byzantine soldiers were killed during and immediately after the battle.
The size of the army’s at Yarmuk is a matter of fierce debate. Al-Baladhuri, for instance, states that the Muslim army was 24,000 strong and that they faced a Byzantine force of over 200,000.Though the figures for the Arab forces in generally accepted, it is more probable that the Byzantine army contained about 80,000 troops or less. At any rate, it is clear that the Byzantines heavily outnumbered their Arab opponents.
The Byzantine army at Yarmuk, according to Al-Baladhuri, was a multi-ethnic force, comprising Greeks, Syrians, Armenians, and Mesopotamians. While the exact composition of the army is impossible to tell, it is thought that at only one-third of the Byzantine soldiers were peasants from Anatolia with the remaining two-thirds of the army’s ranks were primarily being filled by Armenians, as well as Arab-Ghassanid cavalry.
Multiple factors affected the outcome of the Battle of Yarmuk, most of which were beyond Heraclius’ control. It is important to note that Heraclius, while he personally commanded the Byzantine army in its campaigns against the Persians, remained at Antioch and delegated command to Theodore the Sakellarios and the Armenian prince, Vartan Mamikonian.
This, however, was likely unavoidable. Herculius, who by the 630s was an increasingly ill man suffering from hydrophobia and possibly cancer, was simply too frail to go on campaign with his army. Nevertheless, the lack of effective and coordinated leadership in the Byzantine army, coupled with the superb generalship of Khalid Ibn al-Walid was a likely factor in outcome of the battle.
The skill of the Arab cavalry, particularly the horse archers, also gave the Arab army a distinct advantage in terms of their ability to outmaneuver their Byzantine counterparts. The delay between May and August was disastrous for two reasons; first it provided the Arabs with an invaluable respite to regroup and gather reinforcements. Second, the delay wreaked havoc on the overall moral and discipline of the Byzantine troops; the Armenian contingents in particular grew increasingly agitated and mutinous.
During the battle itself the Armenians seemed to have refused to support the Byzantine troops when they attacked, while the Ghassanid-Arabs remained largely passive towards their fellow Arabs. Why the Byzantines waited so long to give battle remains unclear, but what is beyond doubt is that the delay practically doomed the Byzantines military position as it lay idle on the Yarmuk river.
The legacy of the Battle of Yarmuk was both far reaching and profound. First, and most immediately, the defeat at Yarmuk led to the permanent loss of the entire Byzantine East (Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, and Egypt), which seriously undermined the Byzantine Empire’s fiscal and military capabilities.
Second, the Arab invasions were perceived by many in Byzantine society as divine retribution for their lack of piety, idolatrous behaviour, and the Emperor’s incestuous marriage to Martina.These and subsequent defeats at the hands of the Muslims provided one of the origins for the Iconoclast crisis which would erupt to the early 8th century.
Third, the battle also stimulated a change in military tactics and strategy on the part of the Byzantines. Having failed to defeat the Muslim armies in open battle, the Byzantine army withdrew to form a defensive line along the Taurus and Anti-Taurus mountain ranges. The Byzantines were in fact no longer in any position to take the offensive to reconquer their lost possessions in the Levant and Egypt, and would primarily focus on defending their remaining territory in Anatolia.
Finally, the Arab conquests, and the battle of Yarmuk in particular, destroyed the military reputation of Heraclius. Having failed to prevent the loss of half the empire, Heraclius retreated into isolation, by all accounts a broken man, a mere shadow of the former dynamic personality who had been victorious against the Persians merely a decade before.
Al-Baladhuri. “The Battle of the Yarmuk (636) and After,” Internet Medieval Sourcebookhttp://www.fordham.edu/Halsall/source/yarmuk.asp
Bailey, Norman A. “The Battle of Yarmuk.” Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies 14, no. 1 (winter/spring 2004): 17-22.
Gregory, Timothy E. A History of Byzantium. Blackwell History of the Ancient World. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005.
Haldon, John. Byzantium at War AD 600-1453. Essential Histories. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002.
Haldon, John. Warfare, State, and Society in the Byzantine World: 565-1204. Warfare and History. London: University College London Press, 1999.
Jenkins, Romilly. Byzantium: The Imperial Centuries AD 610-1071. Medieval Academy Reprints for Teaching. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987.
Kaegi, Walter Emil. Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Kunselman, David E. “Arab-Byzantine War, 629-644 AD” Masters Thesis, US Army Command and General Staff College, 2007.
Nicolle, David. The Great Islamic Conquests AD 632-750. Essential Histories. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2009.
Ostrogorsky, George. History of the Byzantine State. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1969.
Treadgold, Warren. A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997.
 Timothy E. Gregory, A History of Byzantium, Blackwell History of the Ancient World (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005): 160.
 Gregory, 160.
 Gregory, 160-161.
 George Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1969), 110.
 David Nicolle, The Great Islamic Conquests AD 632-750. Essential Histories, (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2009), 50.
 Nicolle, 49.
 Romilly Jenkins, Byzantium: The Imperial Centuries AD 610-1071. Medieval Academy Reprints for Teaching. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987), 32-33.
 David E. Kunselman, “Arab-Byzantine War, 629-644 AD” (Masters Thesis, US Army Command and General Staff College, 2007), 71-72.
 Walter Emil Kaegi, Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 132-134.
 Jenkins, 33.
 Jenkins, 33.
 Nicolle, 51.
 John Haldon, Warfare, State, and Society in the Byzantine World: 565-1204. Warfare and History. (London: University College London Press, 1999), 215-216.
 Jenkins, 34.
 Al-Baladhuri. “The Battle of the Yarmuk (636) and After,”
 Al-Baladhuri. “The Battle of the Yarmuk (636) and After.”
 Jenkins, 33.
 Al-Baladhuri. “The Battle of the Yarmuk (636) and After.”
 Kunselman, 71.
 Norman A. Bailey, “The Battle of Yarmuk.”Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies 14, no. 1 (winter/spring 2004), 20.
 Nicolle, 49.
 Jenkins, 33.
 Kunselman, 71-72.
 Warren Treadgold, A History of the Byzantine State and Society. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), 304.
 John Haldon, Byzantium at War AD 600-1453. Essential Histories, (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002), 39.
The recent annexation of the Crimea by the Russian Federation should remind us of the competing and complicated claims of legitimacy over this tiny black sea territory, in this case between Ukraine and Russia. However, it would be a mistake to analyze Russia’s territorial ambitions as an isolated action, indeed quite the opposite. The Crimean peninsula has long been a contested region between various empires and nations.
During the 17th century, the steppes of Ukraine were subject to a prolonged series of wars between the great powers of Eastern Europe, namely the Ottoman Empire, the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth (PLC) and Russia. During this period the Khanate of Crimea, one of the successor states of the Golden Horde and a vassal of the Ottoman Empire, played a critical role in aiding the Ottoman`s military campaigns against first the PLC, and later against the growing power of Russia.
Though Ottoman and Tatar military power was ultimately broken decisively during the disastrous War of the Holy League (1684-1699), and Russia’s dominance over Ukraine was assured, the result was never a certainty. Throughout most of the 17th century, the Crimean Khanate possessed the potential, and indeed the will, to dominate the Dnieper and Volga plains.
The origins of the Crimean Khanate can be traced roughly to the year 1443, when Haci Giray, one of the unsuccessful contenders for the throne of the Golden Horde, succeeded in establishing an independent authority over the Crimea and the adjacent steppe.
Following the Ottoman capture of Constantinople in 1453, Haci Giray moved quickly to establish a military alliance with the Ottoman Sultan Mehemed II, who he saw as a potential partner in his wars against the Golden Horde. Indeed, the first instance of Tatars and Ottoman military cooperation occurred only a year later in 1454, when Giray Khan sent 7000 troops to assist in Mehemed IIs siege of the Genoese colony of Kaffa, situated on the southern Crimean coast.Though ultimately unsuccessful, the expedition set a precedent for future Ottoman-Tatar cooperation.
The Crimean Khanate’s independence was not to last long, however, as it was quickly incorporated into the Ottoman political orbit. After the death of Giray Khan in 1466, his two sons plunged the Khanate into intermittent civil war for control of their father’s throne. In 1475, Mehemed II seized the opportunity provided by the crisis over the Khanates succession to impose his influence over the Crimea, and by 1478 he was able to place a loyal candidate, Mengli Giray, on the throne.The new Tatar Khan agreed to become an Ottoman vassal, stating in a treaty to be “the enemy of your enemy and the friend of your friend.”
The Tatar alliance with the Ottomans was to prove remarkably enduring, and was to be a fixture of Eastern European politics until its “independence” was secured by Russia in 1774 by the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainardji. One reason for the durability of this alliance system was the mutually beneficial value of the relationship for both parties.
For the Ottomans, the Crimean Khanate was particularly helpful in securing the northern frontier of their empire, as well as being a reliable source for skilled cavalry (usually around 20,000) to supplement the Ottoman army on campaign. As the first line of defense against threats to Ottoman ports in Crimea, as well as their dependencies in Wallachia and Transylvania, the Tatars were highly useful as their ability to conduct quick raids into enemy territory could usually be relied upon to slow an enemy army’s advance.
For the Khanate, the Ottoman alignment was necessary to destroy the power of the Golden Horde, who until the late 15th century still posed a formidable military threat. Subsequently, the Ottomans offered protection to the Khanate against the encroachments of the PLC, and subsequently the Russian Empire.
That the Crimean Khanate possessed a formidable military organization is clear by the privileged position afforded to them by the Ottoman’s, yet it remains uncertain exactly how large the Tatar army was. This is important when one wishes to consider what the Tatar army’s military potential could have been, and what they might have been able to achieve if properly supported by the Ottomans.
Alan Fisher, for example, conservatively estimates Tatar military strength at around 40,000-50,000. Other sources place the number around 80,000, or even upwards to 200,000, though this latter figure is almost certainly an exaggeration.
The apogee of the Tatar army was in the early 16th century, with its most notable success being its victory over, and resulting destruction, of the Golden Horde in 1502. Yet the fruits of this victory went not to the Khanate, but to Russia. As the borders of Russia steadily advanced towards the Tatar frontier, the Crimean Khanate increasingly viewed Russia as their principle rival, and recognized it’s dangerous military potential long before the Ottoman Empire.
The Ottomans, for their part, showed a remarkable degree of indifference to the expansion of Russia during the 16th century, preferring it to a corresponding increase in the Tatar’s political power, which would only weaken their influence over the Khanate. Indeed, during most of this period the Ottomans identified the PLC, not Russia, as its principle enemy along its northern frontier, and as such allocated most of its military resources in the region to face this threat.
Importantly, the Ottomans usually viewed their alliance with the Tatars as being defensive in nature, intending it to provide a buffer against foreign invasions against the Ottoman dependencies in the Balkans. They were therefore less inclined to support Tatar expansionist aspirations which could easily embroil them in a prolonged, expensive, and likely unnecessary conflict in the Ukrainian steppe.
The turning point in Ottoman-Russian relations came in 1654, with the union of the Dnieper Cossacks with Russia, which presented the Crimea Khanate and the Ottoman Empire with a formidable to challenge to their influence and claims of suzerainty over the Ukrainian steppe.
Nevertheless, the Ottomans were initially reluctant to commit further armies into the Ukraine, primarily because they were preoccupied in the Mediterranean and along the Danube frontier by the ongoing war against Austria and Venice. They also feared the weakening of their political influence over the Crimea in the event the Khanate conquered vast new territories along the Dniester and the Volga.
However, the rapid growth of Russian finally prompted a serious Ottoman campaign to expel the Russians from the Ukraine. In 1678, a large Ottoman army, supported by Tatar cavalry, launched an offensive which culminated in the siege of the strategic city of Cihrin. Russian attempts to relieve the city failed, and the Ottomans were able to secure a favorable treaty. Yet, while the Russians were temporarily pushed back, continued warfare along the Polish frontier forced the Ottomans to discontinue their Ukrainian offensive.
Despite the success of Ottoman-Tatar military cooperation, the territorial gains in Ukraine would prove to be temporary, as the Ottomans military power was shattered shortly thereafter during its war against the Austrian Empire and the Holy League. This left the Crimean Khanate dangerously exposed to a Russian attack, a situation which Tsar Peter I (the Great) quickly exploited to his advantage.
While the Ottomans were preoccupied in the Balkans against Austria, the PLC and Venice, Peter the Great led an attack against the Ottoman fortress of Azov in the heart of the Crimean Khanate, which he finally captured in 1696.Though the Tatars managed to evade two other Russian invasions during the war, Peter the Great’s campaigns signaled the beginning of an ominous new era in the Khanate’s relationship with Russia, as her neighbor was able to steadily penetrate its frontier as never before.
Part of the reason for the ease of Russia’s penetration into the Tatar frontier was that it had been severely weakened over the course of the 17th century, as the Crimean Khanate became increasingly subjected to Cossack raids along its borders. This in turn severely depleted the Khanate’s resources and population in numerous border districts. However, the extent of these raids must not be overstated as the Tatars themselves conducted frequent raids against their neighbors throughout the 16th and 17thcenturies, which can be said to have had an equally devastating effect.
Despite the advantages that the Ottoman-Tatar relationship conferred to both parties, the alliance nevertheless had a number of serious weaknesses that became increasingly evident as the seventeenth century progressed. Primary amongst these was the difference in Tatar and Ottoman strategic and territorial objectives.
As has been noted before, the Crimean Khanate maintained claims on most the territories of the former Golden Horde, namely between the Dniester and Volga Rivers. The Ottomans, by contrast, saw the Khanate as merely part of its northern defensive frontier, and was rarely inclined to support large-scale military enterprises aimed at conquests at the expense of the PLC, Russia and the various Cossack Hetmanates.
Indeed, the Ottomans were always suspicious of Tatar military ambitions, fearing that large-scale conquests would dramatically increase the military power of the Crimean Khanate, and thereby reduce Ottoman political influence over the Crimea. It must therefore be concluded that the Ottomans did not share the fears of the Crimean Khanate in regards to the expansion of Russia’s power, at least until the beginning the seventeenth century. When the Ottomans did commit large armies to the steppes of Ukraine, their military campaigns were primarily directed against the PLC, which allowed Russia to gradually expand her influence and territory in the Ukraine.
By the end of the seventeenth century, the Crimean Khanate’s strategic position had been drastically reduced, and though it would endure for almost another century, its military position was weakened by the rapid expansion of Russian military power in eastern and central Ukraine and by the gradual, but steady, decline of Ottoman military capabilities.
Fisher, Alan. “Muscovy and the Black Sea Slave Trade”, Canadian American Slavic Studies. (Winter 1972).
Fisher, Alan. The Ottoman Crimea in the Mid-Seventeenth Century: Some Preliminary Considerations. Harvard Ukrainian Studies, vol. 3/4 (1979-1980): 215-226.
Fisher, Alan. The Russian Annexation of the Crimea 1772-1783. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).
Fisher, Alan. The Crimean Tatars. Stanford: University of Stanford Press, 1978.
Inalchik, Halil. Struggle for East-European Empire: 1400-1700 The Crimean Khanate, Ottomans and the Rise of the Russian Empire. (Ankara University: The Turkish Yearbook of International Relations, 21), 1982.
Kortepeter, C.M. Gazi Giray II, Khan of the Crimea, and Ottoman Policy in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus,1588-94. The Slavonic and East European Review 44, no. 102 (1966): 139-166.
Scott, H. M. The Emergence of the Eastern Powers, 1756-1775. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2001.
Williams, Brian Glyn. The Sultan’s Raiders: The Military Role of the Crimean Tatars in the Ottoman Empire. Washington D.C: The Jamestown Foundation, 2013.
Vásáry, István. “The Crimean Khanate and the Great Horde (1440s–1500s): A Fight for Primacy.” InThe Crimean Khanate between East and West (15th–18th Century), edited by Denise Klein. Otto Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden, 2012.
 Brian Glyn Williams. The Sultan’s Raiders: The Military Role of the Crimean Tatars in the Ottoman Empire. (Washington D.C: The Jamestown Foundation, 2013), 2. There is, however, some debate as to the exact date that Crimea became a separate political entity from the Golden Horde. István Vásáry, for example, puts the date of the Khanate’s foundation in 1449 (István Vásáry. “The Crimean Khanate and the Great Horde (1440s–1500s): A Fight for Primacy.” In The Crimean Khanate between East and West (15th–18th Century), edited by Denise Klein. (Otto Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden, 2012), 15).
 Williams, 2.
 Ibid, 2.
 Ibid, 2.
 Alan Fisher, The Crimean Tatars. (Stanford: University of Stanford Press, 1978), 5.
 H. M Scott. The Emergence of the Eastern Powers, 1756-1775. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 232.
 Williams, 8.
 C. M. Kortepeter, “Gazi Giray II, Khan of the Crimea, and Ottoman Policy in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus,1588-94”, The Slavonic and East European Review 44, no. 102 (1966): 140.
 Allen Fisher, The Russian Annexation of the Crimea 1772-1783. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 15.
 Williams, 5.
 Ibid, 15.
 Ibid, 15.
 Halil Inalchik, “Struggle for East-European Empire: 1400-1700, The Crimean Khanate, Ottomans and the Rise of the Russian Empire” (Ankara University: The Turkish Yearbook of International Relations, 21, 1982):6.
 Ibid, 7.
 Ibid, 7-8.
 Ibid, 8.
 Ibid, 8.
 Williams, 18.
 Ibid, 18.
 Alan Fisher, The Ottoman Crimea in the Mid-Seventeenth Century: Some Preliminary Considerations. Harvard Ukrainian Studies, vol. 3/4 (1979-1980): 216.
 For example, in Poland alone it has been estimated that between 1474 to 1694 roughly 1 million Poles were carried off by the Tatars to be sold into slavery. Alan Fisher, “Muscovy and the Black Sea Slave Trade.” Canadian American Slavic Studies. (Winter 1972): 582.