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An extract from Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066
by Ian Heath


At the beginning of their period of expansion the Arabs clearly relied on infantry rather than cavalry, though reckoning a cavalryman worth twice as much in pay.

This man is a Bedouin (i.e. a nomad, as distinct from the settled Arabs), described as 'the raw material of Islam', and he wears the traditional Bedouin costume. The long topcoat and the under-tunic would have been woven from camel-wool. On his arms are tiraz, bands woven in coloured silk bearing embroidered inscriptions, often from the Koran. Clothing colours were bright, such as scarlet, red, blue, yellow, green and white, and were sometimes striped. Chieftains wore the brightest clothing, decorated with gold and coloured embroidery. Turbans were most commonly white but were sometimes coloured. All Arabs wore beards.

An early-9th century source mentions uniforms, and as early as 737 an entire army on campaign against the Khazars had been issued with white uniforms, white being the colour of the ruling Umayyad dynasty. Likewise some Abbasid troops appear to have worn black.

Principal weapons were saif and spear, the former being a straight steel or iron sword traditionally suspended from a baldric. The wearing of the sword at the waist-belt was officially introduced in the mid-9th century. The javelin or harbah was also used and had been a favourite weapon of pre-Islamic Quraish mercenaries. Shields were called either turs (large and round, of wood and leather) or daraqa (smaller and entirely of leather).

Some infantry wore armour, these forming the front ranks when available.

See also Umayyad Frescoes from Quṣayr ʿAmra, mid-8th century AD, Syrian, in situ, Jordan
Next: 97. ARAB ARCHER in Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066 by Ian Heath