Battle of Azaz (1030)
The Battle of Azaz was an engagement fought near the Syrian town of Azaz between the Byzantine army, led by Emperor Romanos III Argyros (r. 1028–1034) in person, and the forces of the Mirdasid Emirate of Aleppo. The battle resulted in a rout for the Byzantines, whose army fled in disorder back to Antioch, but the Byzantine generals managed to recover the situation thereafter, forcing Aleppo to resume tributary status in 1031.
Aleppo had been a Byzantine vassal since the days of Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963–969), but already in the years before the death of Basil II (r. 976–1025), its emirs had begun to acknowledge the suzerainty of the Fatimid caliphs of Egypt. By the time the Mirdasid dynasty (1025–1080) gained control of the city, Byzantine influence over Aleppo and northern Syria in general had declined considerably (cf. Michael Spondyles).
Romanos III, despite his complete lack of military experience, was eager to emulate Basil's military successes, and in March 1030 he departed Constantinople, leading in person a campaign against Aleppo. His army, some 20,000 strong, contained many foreign mercenaries. According to the Byzantine chroniclers, so confident was Romanos of his success that he prepared special crowns for his triumph to come, and staged a grandiose entry into Antioch. Aleppo's emir, Shibl al-Dawla Nasr, learning of the Byzantines' approach, sent envoys and offered to recognize Byzantine suzerainty and to restart the payment of tribute. Romanos's generals counselled him to accept so as to avoid the hazards of campaigning in the arid Syrian desert in summer, especially as their troops were unaccustomed to such conditions and were encumbered by their heavy armour, but Romanos rejected their advice and led his army towards Azaz (Azazion in Greek). As the contemporary scholar Michael Psellos acidly commented, Romanos "thought war was decided by the big battalions, and it was on the big battalions that he relied".
The Byzantines set up a fortified camp near Azaz, and the Emperor dispatched the Excubitors, under their commander, the patrikios Leo Choirosphaktes, to reconnoitre the area. Choirosphaktes was ambushed, however, and taken captive, while his men dispersed. This success encouraged the Arabs, who began to harass the imperial camp and prohibit the Byzantines from foraging. As a result, the Byzantine army began to suffer from hunger and especially from thirst.
The patrikios Constantine Dalassenos then led an attack against the Arabs, but was defeated, and fled back to the camp. The Byzantines became demoralized, and an imperial council resolved to abandon the campaign and return to Byzantine territory. Thus, in the next morning, 10 August 1030, the army departed its camp and made for Antioch. The besieging Arabs attacked the retreating imperial army. As most Byzantine troops were too worn out from thirst and dysentery to fight, the imperial army broke and fled. Only the imperial bodyguard, the Hetaireia, held firm, and their brave stand allowed Romanos, who was nearly captured himself, to escape. According to the report of Yahya of Antioch, however, the Byzantines suffered remarkably little casualties.
The Arabs took great booty, including the entire imperial army's baggage train, which the Byzantines abandoned in their hasty flight. Among the spoils was the sumptuous imperial tent with its treasures, which allegedly had to be carried off on seventy camels. Only the holy icon of the Theotokos, which the Byzantine emperors habitually carried along on campaigns, was saved.
The failure of the emperor was partly offset by the victory of George Maniakes, governor of Telouch, against 800 Arabs returning from the Byzantine debacle. The Arabs, emboldened by their victory, demanded that he evacuate his province. Maniakes at first pretended to comply, sending food and drink to the Arabs, but then attacked and overwhelmed them. Maniakes's success was followed soon after by a sustained Byzantine campaign against the Arab border lords, who had risen up against Byzantine rule in the aftermath of Azaz. Romanos himself had departed for Constantinople, leaving behind Niketas of Mistheia and Symeon the protovestiarios as the katepano of Antioch and as Domestic of the Schools respectively. These two generals scored a number of successes, taking several fortresses, including Azaz after a short siege in December 1030. Over the next two years, they systematically took the hill forts of the local tribes and reduced them to submission, restoring the Byzantine position in Syria. In the meantime, Nasr of Aleppo, seeking to conciliate his powerful neighbour, sent his own son 'Amr to Constantinople already in April 1031 to ask for a treaty whereby he returned to tributary and vassal status towards Byzantium. The Byzantine resurgence in the East culminated in the capture of Edessa in 1031 by Maniakes.
- Wortley 2010, pp. 357–358; Stevenson 1926, pp. 242, 255–256.
- Wortley 2010, pp. 358–359; Sewter 1953, pp. 42–43.
- Shepard 2010, p. 102.
- Wortley 2010, p. 359.
- Wortley 2010, pp. 359–360; Sewter 1953, p. 43.
- Sewter 1953, p. 44.
- Wortley 2010, pp. 360–361.
- Wortley 2010, pp. 361–362, 363; Stevenson 1926, pp. 256–257.
- Wortley 2010, p. 365.
- Sewter, Edgar Robert Ashton, ed. (1953). The Chronographia of Michael Psellus. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.
- Shepard, Jonathan (2010). "Azaz, Battle near". In Rogers, Clifford. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology, Volume 1. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. p. 102. ISBN 978-0-19-533403-6.
- Stevenson, William B. (1926). "Chapter VI. Islam in Syria and Egypt (750–1100)". In Bury, John Bagnell. The Cambridge Medieval History, Volume V: Contest of Empire and Papacy. New York, New York: The Macmillan Company. pp. 242–264.
- Wortley, John, ed. (2010), John Skylitzes: A Synopsis of Byzantine History, 811-1057, Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-76705-7