The consolidation of Abbasid power during the last half of the eighth century had alienated many regions within the empire. The Caliphate would eventually cede authority over Umayyad holdings in North Africa and Spain and other regions such as Morocco and Egypt would remain independent of Abbasid rule.
Closer to home, the Abbasid would face greater challenges from rivals who were determine to usurp the position of Caliph and revolts such as the Zanj of 869 – 883 further disrupted the political scene. Sensing a further weakening of Abbasid authority the Qaramitan launched their revolt of 897. Beginning in Southern Iraq their rebellion quickly spread to the western edge of the Syrian Desert and from there they launched devastating raids against Abbasid and Tulunid provinces in the Middle East and Egypt. Damascus was also besieged for a time but its defenders successfully beat back repeated attempts to seize the city.
In July of 903, measures were taken to suppress Qaramitan activity in northern Syria and the Caliph assembled an army to confront the rebels. Led by Muhammad ibn-Sulayman, the army engaged the Qaramitan in a series of skirmishes eventually forcing them to a major battle. Dispersing a Qaramitan covering force a full scale battle ensued on the 30th of November resulting in a defeat for the Qaramitan and a loss of key leaders. Despite the defeat the flames of rebellion were not stamped out but would rekindle from their original starting point in southern Iraq.
Our primary source comes from al-Tabari who describes the battle as having been fought 24 miles from Hama. Viewing terrain maps of the region, there are numerable possibilities for a battle site, but there are two important details that help narrow our search; the recent destruction of Salamiyya and the proximity of the desert referenced in the flight of the Qaramitan from the battlefield. A route connecting Hamah (Hama) to Salamiyya must pass through a wide valley (5 km wide) which narrows as one continues further south. This does offer an ideal position for the Qaramitan to deploy and is close to the desert and Salamiyya. From a DBA game perspective, the terrain qualifies as ‘dry’ and from terrain maps we note a number of details; difficult hills, possible wadis, rocky ground and further south we find desert. Our battlefield therefore should have as a minimum; two rocky terrain features, one dune and one difficult hill.
The forces involved are described in detail by Al-Tabari; the Qaramitan had 4,900 horse and 3,000 foot. To reconcile the Qaramitan (III/54b) army list with these numbers, some camel-mounted troops should dismount at the start of the game to reach the numbers of foot and mounted. This gives the Qaramitan the following; 2 x Cv (including general), 1 x LCm, 4 x Cm, 2 x Sp, 2 x 3Bw, 1 x Ps or 7 mounted and 5 foot elements which closely approximates the ratio needed for this scenario.
The Abbasid forces of Muhammad ibn Sulayman are taken from the III/37b sub-list which offer a fine mix of mounted and foot troops. Foot troops have Dailami auxiliaries which are particularly useful in rough ground as are the Zanj swordsmen.
The Qaramitan deploy in three groups (al-Tabari), a left wing, centre and right wing with all the infantry positioned in the centre and mounted are evenly divided between the two wings. The Qaramitan defend and therefore move first.
As the Abbasid decamp they approach the Qaramitan in three groups. Muhammad ibn Sulayman places two units of cavalry in ambush positions on both flanks. This most likely means a position behind the main battleline but out of sight from the enemy which was common practice (Kennedy).
The Cambridge History of Egypt, Volume 1
The History of Al-Tabari, volume 38, Return of the Caliphate to Baghdad. (page 135)
The Armies of the Caliphs, Hugh Kennedy.