Leo of Tripoli
Leo of Tripoli
Lāwī Abū'l-Ḥāriṭ, Rashīq al-Wardāmī
|Nickname(s)||ghulām Zurāfa, Rashīq al-Wardāmī|
|Years of service||before 904 – after 921/2|
|Commands held||Admiral, Governor of Tripoli, Deputy governor of Tarsus|
|Wars||Arab–Byzantine wars: Sack of Thessalonica|
Leo of Tripoli (Greek: Λέων ὸ Τριπολίτης), known in Arabic as Rashīq al-Wardāmī (رشيق الوردامي), and Ghulām Zurāfa (غلام زرافة), was a Greek renegade and fleet commander for the Abbasid Caliphate in the early tenth century. He is most notable for his sack of Thessalonica, the Byzantine Empire's second city, in 904.
Nothing is known of Leo's early life except that he was born in or near Attaleia, the capital of the maritime Cibyrrhaeot Theme, and was captured in an Arab raid and brought to Tripoli. In captivity, he converted to Islam, and entered the service of his captors as a seaman and commander. In Arabic sources he is called Lāwī Abū'l-Ḥārith and given the sobriquet ghulām Zurāfa, "servant/page of Zurafa", probably reflecting the name of his first Muslim master. He is also referred to as Rashīq al-Wardāmī. Alexander Vasiliev interpreted the element Wardāmī in his second Arabic name to mean that Leo was a Mardaite.
The details of Leo's early career in the Muslim fleets are unknown, but he seems to have risen quickly: the historian Mas'udi, who met him in person, regarded him as one of the best navigators of his time. In the Arabic sources, he appears with the generic titles of commander (qā’id) or admiral (amīr al-baḥr), as well as governor (ṣāḥib) of Tripoli, and deputy governor (nā’ib) of Tarsus. Both of the latter cities were major Muslim naval centres in the late 9th century, and due to their proximity to the Byzantine Empire functioned as staging areas for the Muslim naval raids.
In early 904, along with another Greek renegade, Damian of Tarsus, Leo participated in the Abbasid campaign that wrested Egypt from the Tulunids and restored it to Abbasid control. Leo and Damian would frequently co-operate in the next decade in their attacks on the Byzantine Empire. In the summer of 904, Leo was at the head of a major Abbasid naval expedition of 54 vessels from the Syrian and Egyptian fleets, whose initial target reportedly was Constantinople itself. The Arab fleet penetrated the Dardanelles and sacked Abydos, as the Byzantine navy under the droungarios Eustathios Argyros was reluctant to confront them. Emperor Leo VI the Wise replaced Argyros with the more energetic Himerios, but Leo of Tripoli forestalled the Byzantines, turning back west and heading for the Empire's second city, Thessalonica, which he sacked after a three-day siege on 31 July 904. The sack of the city brought the Muslim fleet enormous booty and many captives who were taken to be sold as slaves, including the eyewitness John Kaminiates, who wrote the main account of the city's siege and fall. Arab sources, confusing Thessalonica with Attaleia, erroneously report that Leo sacked the latter city.
It is unknown if Leo was the head of the Arab fleet defeated by Himerios on St. Thomas' Day (6 October, probably in 906), but along with Damian of Tarsus he was in command of the Arab fleet that scored a major victory over Himerios in April 912 off Chios, while he was returning from a fruitless attempt to reconquer the Emirate of Crete. Finally, in 921/2, the imperial navy under the patrikios and droungarios John Rhadenos defeated Leo's fleet off Lemnos. Most of the Arab fleet was destroyed and Leo himself barely escaped. He disappears from the sources after this event.
- Vasiliev 1968, p. 163.
- Khoury Odetallah 1995, p. 98.
- Vasiliev 1968, p. 163 (note 2).
- PmbZ, Leon (von Tripolis) bzw. Tripolites (#24397).
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- Rosenthal 1985, p. 151.
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- Tougher 1997, p. 192.
- Wortley 2010, p. 211.
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