Alternate History

Battle of the Zab (Saracen Jihad)

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Battle of the Zab
Part of the Abbasid Revolt
Zab rivers
Greater Zab River Map in Iraq
Date 25 January 750
Location near the Great Zab
Result Decisive Abbasid victory
Black flag Abbasid Caliphate Umayyad Flag Umayyad Caliphate
Commanders and leaders
Black flag Abdallah ibn Ali Umayyad Flag Marwan II

The Battle of the Zab (Arabic: معركة الزاب) took place on the banks of the Great Zab river on 25 January 750. The battle was fought between the Abbasids and the ruling Umayyad Caliphate. The battle is considered the climax of the Abbasid Revolt, serving as a decisive victory for the rebels that would lead to the complete collapse of Umayyad rule.


Civil unrest during the period of the Third Fitno culminated in an all out revolt in support of the Abbasids. Ibrahim the Imam, the fourth in descent from Abbas rose first in revolt, supported by the province of Khorasan, Iran and the Shi'i Arabs. He would achieve considerable success, but would be captured in the year 747.

The revolt continued under his brother Abdallah, known by the name of Abu al-'Abbas as-Saffah, who gathered an army to engage the Umayyads on the field of battle. Abu al-`Abbās and his clan chose to begin their rebellion in Khurasān, an important, but remote military region comprising eastern Iran, southern parts of the modern Central Asian republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Kyrgyzstan and northern Afghanistan. In October 749 (132 AH), Abu al-'Abbās as-Saffāh's rebel army entered Kufa, a major Muslim center in Southern Iraq, and as-Saffah was declared Caliph. As Caliph he set out to eliminate his Umayyad rival and counterpart Marwan II, who still held a large army in opposition to him.


In 750 an army of Abbasid, Shia, and Persian soldiers engaged the Umayyads Caliph Marwan II at the Great Zab, a long river running through Iraq. Although Marwan had a far larger and formidable force than his opponent, containing experienced veteran soldiers from the campaigns against the Byzantines, his men also held wavering support for his cause. Morale was also low after a series of defeats inflicted throughout the war to this point, which only increased the morale of the rebel Abbasid armies.

Aspear wall was formed by the Abbasid army, a tactic they had adopted from the Umayyads, presumably from witnessing it in earlier battles, in which infantry stood in a battle line with lances pointed at the enemy. The Umayyads charged at the Abbasids with their heavy cavalry, believing they would be able to break through the tactically superior lines with their experienced units. This proved to be a mistake and the Umayyad cavalry was slaughtered. The remaining Umayyad army fell into a complete retreat, with its morale finally shattered. Many were cut down by the zealous Abbasids or drowned in the Great Zab.


Marwan himself would escape the slaughter on the battlefield and flee down the Levant, pursued relentlessly by the Abbasids. The Syrians did little to deter the Abbasids, having recently been laid waste by an earthquake and pestilence. Marwan managed to escape to the Nile River Delta, where he remained for some time. Several months after the battle however he would be killed in a short battle. Abu al-'Abbas as-Saffah's rule as Caliph was now unquestioned, and his victory over Marwan II would essentially end the Abbasid Revolt. The revolt would also lead to the end of the period of civil wars and unrest, ending the Third Fitno.

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