Post-classical history



Abu’l-Hasan ‘Ali al-Harawi (d. 1215) was a wandering ascetic and Sufi. He was the author of both a guide to pilgrimage sites and the work from which the following extract is drawn, al-Tadhkira al-Harawiyya fi’l-Hiyal al-Harbiyya (The Memoir of al-Harawi on Stratagems of War). This second treatise, both a ‘mirror for princes’ and a guide to military tactics, was composed between 1192 and the author’s death in 1215, probably for the Ayyubid prince al-Zahir Ghazi (d. 1216).

If [an emir] desires an encounter with the enemy and to arrange his army for battle, let him strive to ensure that the sun is in the eyes of his enemy and the wind against them. If the enemy has done that to him, and it is not possible for him to shift them from their position or dislodge them from where they have set up [their forces], let him march with his army to one side so that the situation will be to his advantage and to their detriment. […] Let him make his companions afraid of [enemy] stratagems and warn them about ruses, so that they will not occupy themselves with taking plunder, so that profit will mislead them, for it may be that the enemy will turn back upon them, or concealed forces may come out at them, master them, take them prisoner and kill them.

Let [the emir] terrify the hearts of the enemy by displaying banners, beating kusat (small drums), and sounding buqat (trumpets), along with the noise of tubul (large drums) and naqqarat (kettle-drums). He [himself] should not fear the numbers of the [enemy] army, nor the foot-soldiers gathered together, nor the useless mass of common people (irregular volunteers), for they are easy to defeat, and it is rare that an army of this sort is victorious.

Let him allocate each unit himself, not depending on anyone else, and let him place his trust first of all in God, be He exalted. Let him build up the centre [of the army], placing many men there and picking elite troops, for it is possible that it will be targeted [by the enemy]. Let him place in the right wing those upon whom he can depend and rely, and treat likewise the left wing. Let him arrange both sides and set up both wings, and let him put in reserve, from his army, a contingent of troops and a unit of elites from those who have seen stratagems of war and tasted the sweetness of stabbing and striking.

Let him observe in which direction the attack from the enemy side is sent and which segment of the army it targets, and if the attack comes from the right wing, let him reinforce his left wing, and if it comes from the left wing, let him strengthen his right wing […] Let the infantry, slingers, archers, javelineers and sappers go in front of the cavalry, and let [the emir] observe the vanguard of the enemy army and place opposite it excellent foot-soldiers and outstanding fursan (knights), each sufficient to face their match and like to oppose like. Let him know that the troops are depending upon them and are looking to them [for reassurance]. If they break, the rest of the army will not resist, but rather will do ill and be of no use.

Source: Abu’l-Hasan ‘Ali al-Harawi. (1962) ‘Les Conseils du Sayh al-Harawi à un Prince Ayyubide’. Ed. Janine Sourdel-Thomine. Bulletin d’Études Orientales 17, pp. 250–49 (17–18).

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