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Byzantine-Arab Wars, 750–867
Part of the Byzantine-Arab Wars
Fighting between Byzantines and Arabs Chronikon of Ioannis Skylitzes, end of 13th century..jpg
Depiction of a clash between Byzantine and Arabs, from the Madrid Skylitzes manuscript
Date 750–867
Location Asia Minor
Result Byzantine resurgence but territorial status quo ante in the East; fall of Crete and most of Sicily to the Muslims
Abbassid Caliphate (from 750)
after ca. 830:
Emirate of Melitene
Emirate of Tarsus
Paulician Principality of Tephrike
Byzantine Empire
Commanders and leaders
Salih ibn Ali
al-Hasan ibn Qahtaba
Thumama ibn al-Walid
Harun al-Rashid
Ali ibn Sulayman
Abd al-Malik ibn Salih
al-Abbas ibn al-Ma'mun
Ali al-Armani 
Umar al-Aqta 
Constantine V
Michael Lachanodrakon
Constantine VI
Nikephoros I
Leo the Armenian
Manuel the Armenian
over 100,000 standing forces (780)[1]
20,000–30,000 standing forces in the Abbasid central army (850)[2]
ca. 80,000 in total (780)
ca. 120,000 in total (840)[3]


Arab–Byzantine wars: the first century[edit]

The first century of Arab–Byzantine warfare, from the 630s to the 740s, under the Rashidun and Umayyad caliphs, was characterized by the alternation between periods of Muslim expansion and periods of peace, brought about by periodic outbreaks of civil war (fitna) within the nascent Muslim community.[4] The initial wave of the Muslim conquests succeeded, within a decade (634–644), in capturing the Byzantine provinces of the Levant and Egypt. A period of peace reigned during the First Fitna (656–661), which was followed by a series of sustained, but unsuccessful, attacks on the Byzantine capital, Constantinople. This failure and Byzantine counterattacks with the aid of the Mardaites, coupled with the outbreak of the Second Fitna, led to another period of truce in 679–692. This was followed by a period of intensive warfare which resulted in the final conquest of what remained of Byzantine North Africa (698). Domestic instability in Byzantium over the next twenty years encouraged the Muslims to launch a second, far more serious, attempt at taking Constantinople, which failed with disastrous losses.[5][6] This marked a profound shift in the Caliphate's strategic outlook: although Byzantium remained the chief strategic and ideological enemy of the Muslim state, the ultimate aim of conquering it was abandoned, at least for the time being.[7][8][9] Nevertheless, this change did not become immediately apparent, and after a short lull in 718–720 the Umayyads resumed active warfare against Byzantium, launching annual raids against Byzantine Asia Minor. However, rebellions and military defeats on their far-extended borders gradually exhausted the Caliphate's military reserves. The Byzantine victory at Akroinon in 740, which was soon followed by the outbreak of a civil war among the Umayyad clan and the Abbasid Revolution, ended the phase of active Muslim expansion for good.[10][11]

The Abbasid Caliphate and Byzantium[edit]

In marked contrast to the Umayyads, the Abbasid caliphs who succeeded to the leadership of the Islamic world after 750 usually did not pursue active expansion: in general terms—among the few exceptions are al-Ma'mun's campaigns in the early 830s—they were content with the territorial limits achieved, and whatever external campaigns they waged were retaliatory or preemptive, meant to preserve their frontier and impress Abbasid might upon their neighbours.[12] Furthermore, the accession of the Abbasid dynasty to power meant a decisive shift of the Caliphate's focus to the east: the Abbasid Revolution began on the Caliphate's eastern fringes in Khurasan and the Khurasani military (the Khurasaniyya) that carried the Revolution west became the major pillar of the new regime. Men of Iranian origin, and with them, Iranian culture, entered the hitherto exclusively Arab governing elites of the Caliphate. This shift was made manifest in the transfer of the caliphal capital from Damascus to Baghdad in 762.[13][14][15]

This shift in the Caliphate's center of gravity eastwards helped to lessen the intensity of Muslim pressure on Byzantium.[16] At the same time, however, warfare against Byzantium retained a particular importance for the Abbasid regime. The confrontation with the "only truly ancient, highly developed, and organized enemy" (Blankinship) of the Muslim world offered an opportunity for showcasing the Caliph's ritual role as the leader of the Muslim community, and of keeping alive the spirit of Holy War (jihād). It is indicative of their prestige value that the expeditions against the Byzantines were the only external campaigns where the Caliph or his sons participated in person, and that in official propaganda these closely paralleled the leadership by Abbasid family members of the annual pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca.[17][18][19] Annual expeditions against Byzantine lands, in particular Asia Minor, thus remained a fixture of Arab-Byzantine warfare for the next centuries. In the changed circumstances, however, these were no longer campaigns of conquest, but rather large-scale raids, plundering and devastating the countryside and only occasionally attacking forts or major settlements.[20][21]

Nevertheless, the fundamental factor in Arab-Byzantine relations throughout the 8th and 9th centuries remained the huge disparity between the size and capabilities of the two states. During its peak ca. 780, the Abbasid Caliphate covered (excluding desert areas) over 7 million km2, or ten times the area of the Byzantine dominions, and had a population of some 30 million, against 7 million Byzantine subjects. The massive territorial losses suffered by the Byzantines in the 7th century had left behind a rump state, bereft of its richest provinces, with a much reduced monetary economy, and with the urban network of Late Antiquity under collapse. On the other side, the Near East, unified under Islamic rule, remained highly urbanized, with a flourishing economy: according to Warren Treadgold, ca. 780 the Abbasid state had an annual revenue of ca. 35 million nomismata compared to less than 2 million for Constantinople, although the Byzantines relied, to a larger degree than the Muslims, on revenue in kind as well.[13][22] This disparity translated into a considerable military imbalance: when applying their full resources, the Abbasids could mobilize armies in excess of 100,000 men for particular campaigns, while most Byzantine field armies rarely exceeded 20,000.[13] Against this background, the Byzantine world-view changed, from the triumphalist outlook of the "universal empire" during the 6th century, to a kind of "siege mentality" (Whittow) that took hold in the small, embattled state of the 8th century.[23]

Opposing forces[edit]

Abbasid Caliphate[edit]

Early Abbasid military[edit]

The army of the Muslim conquests and the Umayyad Caliphate had been predominantly an Arab and Muslim army, and constituted a militia raised from the entirety of the adult male population settled in the conquered lands. Converted clients, the mawali, soon followed, and warlike peoples from the borderlands of the Caliphate were also recruited as auxiliaries, without having to embrace Islam.[24] During the initial wave of the conquests, the troops had been sustained chiefly from the enormous plunder they made and which complemented their government-paid salary (atāʾ), but by the end of the Umayyad period, as the Caliphate's expansion reached its limit, the salary became all the more important, and a rift began to develop between the border troops, still actively engaged in warfare, and the populations garrison towns (amṣar) in the interior, like Kufa or Basra, which increasingly lost their military character.[24]

The Abbasids complemented, and in many ways replaced, the Arab military with the Khurasani army that had propelled them to power, and which formed the military and political backbone of the new regime during its first century.[24] These were known as the abnāʾ al-dawla, the "sons of the dynasty", drawn from the ranks of the original Khurasaniyya families. The main army commanders were drawn from them, and their ties to the new regime further strengthened by being settled in Baghdad and given estates in the Abbasid "metropolitan province" of Iraq.[25] Unlike the Arab tribal levies, which were only part-time troops and divided by the various tribal rivalries, the Khurasanis were a far more professional, cohesive and reliable force, which brought with them improved knowledge of siege warfare, archery and the use of materials such as Greek fire analogues, derived from pre-Islamic Persia.[24] As a result, the old Arab militia army was further demilitarized and the Arab tribes themselves increasingly lapsed into political obscurity, except for the frontier zones, which developed their own distinct ethos and remained semi-autonomous from the caliphal regular army establishment.[24] Thus the potential resentment of the Syrian tribal elites, once favoured by the Umayyads, was kept in check by their involvement in the near-constant warfare on the marches with Byzantium alongside the new Khurasani military elite. Abbasid control over the border area and its various warlords was also strengthened after the creation of the al-ʿAwāṣim province (see below).[26][27]

According to the estimates of Hugh Kennedy, ca. 780 the standing army of the Abbasids numbered ca. 100,000 men, of which a little over 25,000 were stationed along the Byzantine frontier.[28] On campaign, these could be complemented by volunteers (muṭṭawiʿa) raised for a specific campaign, and, in the borderlands, with the Holy War zealots known as ghāzī, who were not on the state payroll and "lived on the combined profits of their non-military activities in the intervals between campaigns, on booty during them, and on pious foundations which the Muslims of the interior created in increasing numbers in their favour as a substitute for waging the jihād" (Cahen).[24]

Mu'tasim's new army[edit]

A profound change in the nature of the Caliphate’s government and its military system occurred in the 820s and 830s, under caliphs al-Ma'mun and especially his brother and heir, al-Mu'tasim. Ma'mun gained the throne after a period of civil war (811–819) against his half-brother al-Amin (r. 809–813), which soon spiralled into a multitude of local conflicts across the Caliphate. Amin was seen as the candidate of Iraq and the central Baghdad bureaucracy, while Ma'mun was associated with the Iranian milieu of his powerbase, Khurasan. Although Amin was defeated and killed, and Baghdad occupied by Khurasani troops in 813, the end of the conflict did not come until 819, when Ma'mun departed Khurasan to take up residence in Baghdad. In all this turmoil, the more outlying regions of the Caliphate assumed more or less autonomy from the central government, under local governors, tribal leaders or under rebel leaders. The most dangerous of the latter was the Khurramite leader Babak, whose rebellion, centred in the mountains of Armenia and Azerbaijan, challenged not only Abbasid but Muslim rule in general.[29]

Ma'mun took several steps to consolidate his authority, and ushered a series of reforms that aimed to centralize the Caliphate’s government. He installed his own Iranian supporters in the chief state offices, sidelining the old families of the abnāʾ, who had largely supported Amin, as well as the Abbasid family itself. In addition, he formed two new divisions in the army to counterbalance the power of the new bureaucracy: the surviving Arab tribal forces were grouped together under his son al-Abbas and sent to the Byzantine frontier, while his brother Abu Ishaq (the future al-Mu'tasim), then the viceroy for Syria and Egypt, raised a corps of "Turkish" military slaves (ghilman or mamlūk).[30] The composition and function of Mu'tasim’s "Turkish" corps has been the subject of considerable debate among historians.FIND REFS

The first recruits for this corps were provided to Mu'tasim by the Samanid rulers of Transoxiania, and the collective term "Turks", by which the corps is known, was applied to them regardless of actual ethnic origin; they were drawn from all over Central Asia and as far west as the Khazar lands. Although they are usually termed "slave soldiers", some of its commanders were certainly not slaves, but princes from native Iranian dynasties of Central Asia, who were followed by their own private retinues. Nevertheless, the "Turkish" corps was "both ethnically and linguistically and probably for some time religiously different from the mainstream of the Perso-Arab society of the empire" (El Hibri). As a result, the bulk of the population became alienated from its ruling elite, and the antipathy of the citizens of Baghdad towards his favoured "Turks" was one of the reasons why Mu'tasim transferred his capital to the new city of Samarra.[31] The "Turks" were noted for their warlike character and unmatched ability as horsemen, especially as horse archers, and were held to be particularly loyal to their masters, as they were acquired at a young age and lived separate lives from the citizen population. In the event, this belief soon proved unwarranted as the Turkish soldiers began to topple and raise caliphs according to their own interests, but the institution of an army ethnically distinct from the bulk of the populace became a fixture across the Muslim world until the early modern era.[32]

Ma'mun and Mu'tasim's efforts at consolidation brought about a period of stability, tranquility and prosperity under al-Mutawakkil, which was brought to an abrupt end with the latter's murder by the Turkish guard in 861. This set off a period of sustained internal turmoil, the "Anarchy at Samarra", which pitted rival factions in the military against each other and sapped the power and authority of the caliphal office, now reduced to a puppet of the military. This began a process of decentralization and fragmentation of the Caliphate, as local rulers and dynasties increasingly took more power upon themselves.[33][34]

or all its religious appearances, al Mapmun's ambitious thrust against the Byzantines may have also had secular components that rested on a cultural and civilisational rivalry between Baghdad and Constantinople. Al Mapmun was most famous among the caliphs for his interest in retrieving the classical heritage of the ancient Greeks from the Byzantines and for his patronage of the translation of classical texts. In his reign Iraq became renowned not only for gathering specialists in di!erent "elds, but also for synthesising knowledge from diverse cultures: Persia, India and the Byzantine domains. In the light of this, it is not unlikely that the caliph viewed his political ambitions in syn chrony with his scienti"c ones, and considered regional dominance a catalyst for the acquisition of knowledge in various "elds. Whatever his exact motives were, however, al Mapmun's campaign ended with his sudden death after his armies had assembled in Tarsus. He was accompanied by his brother Abu Ish. aq (al Muqtas. im) and his son al qAbbas, and there are con#icting reports about whether the caliph had intended to transfer the succession to the throne from al qAbbas to al Muqtas. im, who in fact assumed the caliphal title soon after.[35]

Byzance accordait aux Arabes une sorte de prééminence sur ses voisins occidentaux. Dans le protocole de Constantin Porphyrogénète on peut trouver des formules très cordiales pour la réception des ambassadeurs de Bagdad ou du Caire (4). A la table impériale les cérémonies de Constantin placent « les amis » sarrasins plus haut que « les amis » francs et parmi tous les Sarrasins ce sont ceux d'Orient qui ont les meilleures places (1).[36]

Byzantine Empire[edit]

The 7th and early 8th centuries had been a time of dramatic territorial losses and profound internal changes in the Byzantine Empire. ADD

In response to the invasions and territorial losses of the 7th century, Byzantine territory was reorganized in the mid-7th century into "themes": large circumscriptions that superseded the old Roman provinces and were organized along military lines, governed by a strategos, a general who headed the troops raised and garrisoned in each theme. In Asia Minor, the largest contiguous territory left to the Empire, and hence its military and economic heartland, in ca. 770 these were the Anatolic, Armeniac, Thracesian, Bucellarian and Opsician themes, with the great naval theme of the Cibyrrhaeots covering the southern shore. Of these the militarily most important was the Anatolic Theme, which controlled the plateau at the heart of the peninsula and the main east-west routes running from the Taurus-Antitaurus Mountains to the fertile and prosperous western coastlands. The Armeniac Theme, covering the north-eastern frontier, was next, while the Thracesian Theme comprised the richest lands. Further west, the Byzantine possessions in southern Greece were formed into the theme of Hellas, while Sicily was a separate theme, and included the last Byzantine outposts in southern Italy. Crete and the Byzantine possessions in the Adriatic (the Ionian Islands and parts of Albania around Dyrrhachium) were formed into minor independent commands. The western territories, although subject to Arab naval raids, were marginal from the point of view of Constantinople, which focused the overwhelming bulk of its resources in the struggle along its eastern land border with the Caliphate.[37]

The theme system allowed… (Whittow, pp. 175-181)

Other states[edit]

The Caucasian principalities=[edit]

Armenia (Rochow 1994, pp. 87-89)

Khazar Khaganate[edit]

To the north beyond the Caucasus range, the Caliphate bordered the great khaganate of the Khazars. Their foreign policy was often closely allied with Byzantium since the 7th century.[38] HERE smth about the wars under the Umayyads.

Al-Mansur tried to improve relations by arranging a marriage between a daughter of the khagan and his governor for Transcaucasia, Yazid ibn Usayd al-Sulami, but this backfired when the princess died, leading to Khazar raids against the Caliphate's Caucasian provinces.[38]

Al Rashı¯d seems to have also tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to improve ties with the Khazars[38]

Kennedy (2004), p. 275 After the initial success of the Arab conquests, the Byzantines retained control of the highlands of Anatolia as far as the passes through the Taurus mountains. At first the Muslims seem to have preferred to keep the land to the south of this as a no man's land, a sort of cordon sanitaire, between them and the enemy. Muslim forces tended to concentrate on bases to the rear like Antioch and Dabiq. The Cilician plain, which had been rich and prosperous in classical antiquity, was left almost uninhabited. In the early second/eighth century, however, this position began to change. After the reign of the Umayyad Caliph Sulayman b. ‘Abd al-Malik (96–9/715–17) there were no more major attacks on Constantinople and it became clear that the Byzantine empire and the Muslim caliphate were going to coexist for some time. This change was confirmed at the time of the ‘Abbasid revolution when Byzantine forces led by Constantine V (741–75) began to take the initiative and Muslim cities like Malasiya, which had been in Arab hands since the conquests, were threatened by the enemy. Under the later Umayyads and early ‘Abbasids the frontier provinces began to be settled and fortified in depth. In the Cilician plain, Adana, Marrcra (Misis) and above all Tarsus became great Muslim cities, while further to the east, Mar‘ash, gadath and Malasiya became centres of population and military activity. These Muslim outposts were mostly urban in character and all were situated in the plains or river valleys, while the Byzantines were restricted to the highlands and the cities of the plateau to the north. The Muslims continued to raid Byzantine territory and, sometimes, as in the later years of Haren's reign (187–93/803–9) and the reign of al-Mu‘tarim

Kennedy (2004), p. 276 (218–27/833–42), there were full-scale military campaigns, but the objectives were booty and prisoners, and the demonstration of the caliph's role as defender of Islam, rather than the acquisition of new territory.

The Franks[edit]

Border warfare in Asia Minor[edit]

Overview: geography and strategy[edit]

Asia Minor with its provinces, roads and settlements, and the Arab-Byzantine frontier zone, ca. 780 AD

After the failure of the Arab attempts to conquer Constantinople and end the Byzantine Empire in the first half of the 8th century, the Arab-Byzantine frontier stabilized along the eastern fringes of Asia Minor, following the Taurus-Antitaurus mountain ranges and the western bank of the Upper Euphrates, on the western edge of the Armenian Highlands. Along side a dozen or so smaller ones, three major passes led over this mountain barrier into Asia Minor: the Cilician Gates over the Taurus in the south, beginning north of Tarsus and ending at the fortress of Loulon (Ar. Lu'lu'a) on its northern end; the Pass of Adata over the Antitaurus, beginning by Adata (Ar. Ḥadath), north of Germanikeia (Ar. Mar'ash) on the Arab side and leading to the environs of Kaisareia on the Byzantine side; and the Pass of Melitene, located near Melitene (Ar. Malatya) and leading over the Antitaurus to northern Cappadocia and Armenia Minor.[39](CHECK REFERENCES)[40][41]

The Arabs launched regular raids over the mountain passes into Asia Minor, but they were never able to permanently establish a base beyond and hold it for more than a couple of years. The Byzantines likewise launched counter-attacks, and although many frontier towns and fortresses changed hands frequently, the general outline of the border remained unaltered for over two centuries.[42] By the 9th century, according to the Arab geographer Qudama ibn Ja'far, the conventional pattern of Arab incursions included a first expedition in spring (10 May–10 June), when horses could find abundant fodder, followed after about a month's rest by a summer raid (10 July–8 September), usually the main campaign of the year, and sometimes by a winter raid in February–March.[43]

The Byzantine strategy in dealing with the Muslim threat is traditionally regarded to have been mostly defensive, after the disastrous failure of Emperor Justinian II to renew offensive warfare in the 690s. As codified in the late 10th-century manual De velitatione bellica, Byzantine defensive strategy recommended avoiding a direct confrontation with an invading force, instead shadowing it and using scorched earth tactics against it. The decisive attack was to be delayed until it started on its way back, at a time and place of the Byzantines' choosing. By this point, the manual argues, the various Byzantine provincial forces would have had time to gather their strength and converge on the raiders, while in turn the latter would be tired, encumbered with loot and eager to return home.[44] Some scholars, however, like Ralph-Johannes Lilie, have challenged the traditional assumption of a doctrine of avoidance of battle: as Lilie argues, in the century after the 690s, there are more than twenty recorded large-scale battles.[45]

Under the Abbasids, the Arab raids were largely confined to the eastern borderlands and the central plateau of Asia Minor, and only rarely reached the peripheral coastlands. Nevertheless, the country suffered great devastation from constant raiding. Until Late Antiquity, Asia Minor had been highly urbanized, but constant attacks during the 7th and 8th centuries led to the destruction, abandonment or reduction of the ancient cities to their fortified cores. Only those sites that remained centres of state or ecclesiastical administration did retain a degree of prosperity, and it is telling that even in the 9th century, Arab geographers refer to most of them as "fortresses" (qila' or husun), rather than actual cities (madina).[46] In the words of Hugh N. Kennedy, Asia Minor became "a land of ruined cities and deserted villages where a scattered population looked to rocky castles or impenetrable mountains rather than the armies of the empire to provide a minimum of security".[47] As Arnold J. Toynbee comments, "General Winter" was often a far more effective foe for the Arabs than the Byzantines; there are many cases were severe winters inflicted heavy casualties, or forced the abandonment of raids or even of fortresses by the Arabs, more used to the temperate climate of Iraq and Syria.[48]

In order to be able to react the the Muslim raids, the Byzantines developed a beacon system that linked the Taurus passes with Constantinople in nine stations.[49] ADD HERE smth about the aplekta and convergence of thematic forces SEE Toynbee pp. 115ff on particulars, also pp. 300ff on aplekta etc

"...from all the great towns within the borders of Persia and Mesopotamia, and Arabia, Syria, Egypt, and Morocco, there is no city but has in Tarsus a hostelry for its townsmen, where the warriors for the Faith from each particular country live. And, when they have once reached Tarsus, they settle there and remain to serve in the garrison; among them prayer and worship are most diligently performed; from all hands, funds are sent to them, and they receive alms rich and plentiful; also there is hardly a sultan who does not send hither some auxiliary troops."

Ibn Hawqal's description of Tarsus as a centre for jihad against Byzantium[50]

On the Muslim side, major efforts were undertaken by the first Abbasid caliphs to fortify their border with Byzantium. Greatly expanding upon the work began by the Umayyads, the Abbasids rebuilt and refortified many abandoned towns, which were to serve as frontier strongholds. The main fortresses, garrisoned with regular troops, were Mopsuestia (Ar. al-Maṣṣīṣṣa), Tarsus, Melitene and Hadath, and further north Samosata (Ar. Shimshāṭ) and Theodosiopolis (Ar. Qālīqāla, modern Erzerum), each with about 4,000 men as garrisons. The Cilician plain was furthermore dotted with smaller forts holding smaller garrisons of a dozen or so men.[51] This programme was furthered under Harun al-Rashid (r. 786–809), who refortified several towns and founded a number of fortresses of his own, like Haruniyya. He also formalized the administration of the border districts into a regular system, comprising a forward zone, the Thughur, divided into the Syrian (the Thughūr al-Sha'mīya, essentially Cilicia) and the Upper Mesopotamian (Thughūr al-Jazīrīya) sectors as well as a rear zone, the al-'Awāṣim, across northern Syria. People from across the Caliphate were induced to come to the Thughūr through higher salaries, low taxes and subsidies pouring in from all over the Muslim world, joined by volunteers eager to participate in the jihād.[52] find refs for the division of the thughur and the Arabic names

Constantine V and the first Abbasids, 750–775[edit]

The murder of Caliph al-Walid in April 744 began a period of civil wars in the Muslim world, which culminated in the Abbasid Revolution that finally toppled the Umayyad regime in 750.[53] The Emperor Constantine V used the internal difficulties of the Caliphate to regain the initiative in their eastern borders and pursue an aggressive strategy. Constantine's objectives were nevertheless limited: rather than attempting a reconquest, through his deportation of frontier populations and his obstruction of Muslim fortification efforts, he pursued the establishment of a permanent no-man's land between Byzantine and Muslim domains that would shield Asia Minor and obstruct Muslim raids against it. [54] With the gradual consolidation of the Abbasid regime in the 760s and 770s, however, the situation became more balanced. The Arabs resumed their large-scale raids into Asia Minor, but the Byzantines were still capable of major counterstrokes.[55]

In 744–746, Constantine ravaged the Muslim borderlands, sacking the towns of Sozopetra, Germanikeia and Doliche and carrying off their Christian populations to Byzantine territory.[56] An outbreak of the plague stalled his efforts for a few years, but Constantine repeated the process in 751 with Melitene and Claudias in Upper Mesopotamia, which were besieged and captured, although the Byzantines failed at Arsamosata. [57] In the same year, many Armenians fled to the Empire, where some of them rose to occupy high military posts. Among them was Khusan, who in 753/754 and 754/755 led raids into Arab-held Armenia. In 755 in particular he managed to recover Kamacha for the Empire and then took Theodosiopolis (Ar. Qaliqala) with the aid of its Armenian inhabitants, who were then transported west.[58] In addition, the Byzantine navy scored a major success over an Egyptian fleet that was raiding Cyprus in 747: the Egyptians were attacked in their harbour and destroyed, breaking Muslim naval power in the East for over a century.[59]

The new Abbasid regime only began to direct its attention to the Byzantine frontier in 754. Abdallah ibn Ali, the uncle of the first Abbasid caliph al-Saffah and governor of Syria, prepared a major raid against Byzantium, but before it could set out news reached him of his nephew's death. He immediately turned his army south to make a bid to become caliph himself over his other nephew, Abu Ja'far, who was proclaimed caliph al-Mansur. Abdallah was defeated and captured, but the Syrian command was entrusted to his brother, Salih ibn Ali.[60] Salih launched his first campaign into Asia Minor in 756, crossing the Antitaurus through the Pass of Hadath, but he reportedly turned back when he learned that the emperor had set out to meet him. A ransom of Muslim prisoners in Byzantine hands followed, and in 757 the Muslims confined themselves to strengthening their side of the frontier zone: Salih rebuilt the walls of Mopsuestia, damaged in an earthquake the year before, while the governor of Jazira, ‘Abd al-Wahhab, a nephew of al-Mansur, began the restoration of Claudias and of Melitene (Malatya). Constantine attempted to counter this, but his 758 expedition along the river Pyramos failed to prevent the completion of the fortification works.[61] In the next year, Salih took advantage of the Byzantine emperor's absence on campaign in the Balkans to reoccupy the abandoned city of Adana, which he refortified and garrisoned. In 760, the Caliph's brother Abbas inflicted a heavy defeat on the forces of the Armeniac Theme under the strategos Paul at the river Melas. Among the Byzantine casualties was Paul himself, while 42 senior officers were taken prisoner. In the same year, however, a Byzantine fleet supported an ultimately unsuccessful Christian revolt in the Lebanon under a certain Bundar.[62]

The next five years were relatively tranquil, with Constantine V still engaged in his wars against the Bulgars and the Caliphate focused in subduing revolts and countering Khazar incursions. In early 766 another prisoner exchange took place, followed by a large-scale attempt by the Abbasids to capture Kamacha in August. The fortress however resisted the siege for several months, and the Abbasid army was forced to retreat at the approach of winter. A detachment of the army that was sent to raid Cappadocia was also routed by the Byzantines.[61] Salih then began the restoration of Arsamosata, but in 768 (or 770/771 per Rochow?) a Byzantine army invaded the former province of Armenia Quarta and destroyed the works. The city was nevertheless refortified shortly after, although its inhabitants, suspected by the Muslims of harbouring Byzantine sympathies, were deported to Palestine along with those of Germanikeia.[63] In 770, the Arabs succeeded in sacking the town of Laodicea Combusta, but in 773 the Byzantines defeated the Arabs at Mopsuestia (Rochow 78)??? Prisoners exchange (Rochow 79)

In 771, Michael Melissenos took part in an expedition against an Abbasid raid into Isauria. His troops, however, were heavily defeated, and unable to prevent the looting of the region.

The Arabs then set themselves to restore the fortifications of Arsamosata; but in 768 an army which had been ravaging Armenia Quarta crossed the Arsanias and[64] destroyed the works, though after their retreat the task was completed.The citizens were however suspected of collusion with the enemy and removedto Palestine, a fate which also befel the inhabitants of Germanicea(769), which was re-fortified and garrisoned.In 770 Laodicea Combusta was taken, and in 771 some of the Armenianswho had fled to the Romans with Khushan set out to return totheir old homes, and a force under the commandant of Kamacha whichpursued them was surprised and cut to pieces. In 775 Thumamamarched along the Isaurian coast, supported by a fleet, and besiegedSyce. Constantine thereupon sent the Anatolics, Armeniacs, and Bucellarii,who occupied the only pass by which Thumama could retreat, whilethe Cibyrrhaeots anchored in the harbour and cut off" his communicationswith the ships; but by a desperate attack he cut his way through thecavalry and returned with many prisoners from the neighbourhood, whilethe fleet sailed to Cyprus and captured the governor. Constantine, wishingto be free to deal with the Bulgarians, now made proposals for peace,but these were rejected.

Al-Mahdi against Leo IV, Irene and Constantine VI, 775–785[edit]

The deaths of Emperor Constantine V and Caliph al-Mansur in 775 were followed by greater activity on both sides. Constantine's son and successor Leo IV reversed his father's focus on the Bulgars and targeted the Caliphate, sending an expedition in 776 which seized Samosata and took its population captive. Caliph Muhammad al-Mahdi in turn prepared a retaliatory expedition, the largest seen since Akroinon in 740, with many of the best Persian troops under 'Abbas, which took the underground granary of Casis with the men in it and reached but did not take Ancyra.[64] In the next year, Thumama made an expedition by land and Ghamr by sea.[64] In 778, the Byzantines pre-empted the Arab invasion and sent a large force, drawn from all five of the Empire's Anatolian land themes, under Michael Lachanodrakon to cross the Arab frontier. In just six days, Lachanodrakon seized the town of Germanikeia (Ma'rash), seized much booty and took many Syrian Christians captive, and defeated an army sent against him by the Abbasid general Thumama.[65] In 779, the Byzantines took and razed the fortress city of Hadath, forcing Caliph al-Mahdi to replace the rather passive Thumama with the veteran al-Hasan ibn Qahtaba, who led over 30,000 troops into an invasion of Byzantine territory. On orders from Emperor Leo IV, the Byzantines offered no opposition, but withdrew to well-fortified towns and refuges, while detaching troops to shadow the Abbasid force and lay waste to the countryside. Hasan's troops advanced unopposed as far as Dorylaion, which he occupied, but the lack of forage and fodder forced him to retreat. Another, smaller force raided the Armeniac Theme, sacking three fortresses including Koloneia.[66]

Caliph al-Mahdi now resolved to take the field in person, partly in response to Byzantine successes of 778 and partly as a deliberate move to bolster his image as the leader of the Muslim world. In addition, Mahdi intended to use the campaign as a training ground for his son and successor, the future Harun al-Rashid.[67] On 12 March 780, Mahdi departed Baghdad and via Aleppo marched to Hadath, which he refortified. He then advanced to Arabissus, whence he left the army and returned to Baghdad. Harun was left in charge of one half of the army, which raided the Armeniac Theme and took the small fort of Semaluos after a siege of 38 days. The siege cost the Arabs many casualties, and the garrison was allowed to depart unharmed, but it is given special importance in Arabic sources as Harun's first campaign against the Caliphate's traditional infidel enemy. Thumama, entrusted with the other half, invaded Anatolia proper and marched west as far as the Thracesian Theme, but was heavily defeated there by Lachanodrakon; Thumama's own brother fell in combat.[68]

In 781, the Arabs again prepared to launch their habitual raids. In June, Empress Irene called up the Anatolian thematic armies and placed them under the eunuch sakellarios John, while the Arab invasion force assembled at Hadath under Abd al-Kabir. The Muslims crossed into Byzantine Cappadocia over the Pass of Hadath, and were met near Caesarea by the combined Byzantine forces under Michael Lachanodrakon. The ensuing battle resulted in a costly Arab defeat, forcing Abd al-Kabir to abandon his campaign and retreat to Syria.[69]

This defeat infuriated the Caliph, who prepared for the next year a huge new expedition, the largest sent against Byzantium in the second half of the 8th century, as a show of force and a clear display of the Caliphate's superiority. After crossing the border and reaching Phrygia, the Abbasid army split in three, with Harun leading the main body as far as Chrysopolis opposite Constantinople, and secondary forces being sent to raid the rich Thracesian Theme and take the fortress of Nakoleia, securing Harun's rear. Despite victories scored against the Thracesians and Opsicians, on his return, Harun's army was trapped by the Byzantine forces. At this moment, the Armenian general Tatzates, dissatisfied with Irene's new regime, defected to harun and helped him arrest Irene's chief ministers who had been sent to negotiate with the Abbasid prince. Irene was forced to accept a humiliating three-year truce in exchange for an annual tribute of 160,000 gold coins. Harun released all his captives, but kept the rich plunder he had gathered, and returned to the Caliphate in triumph.[70]

Despite the truce, the chronicler Ibn Wadih mentions raids for the years 783, 784 and 785. If true, then these would probably represent only minor affairs, as the main sources agree that the truce was mutually respected until spring 785.[71] In 785, as Irene had strengthened her hold over the army and was preparing to confront the iconoclasts on the domestic front, she decided to cease payment of the tribute, and hostilities recommenced. The capable governor of the thughur, Ali ibn Sulayman, launched a cavalry raid from Melitene that reached as far as Sebastopolis in the Armeniac Theme. At the same time, Ali was completing the reconstruction of Hadath, which had lasted for 5 years. He was dismissed however by Caliph al-Hadi shortly after his succession and during the winter heavy snow and rainfall undermined Hadath's fortifications. The Byzantines took advantage of this and attacked the city; the Arab garrison and population fled Hadath, which was taken and razed to the ground. The town of Sozopetra was also taken, and although the Arabs parried with a raid into Anatolia and rebuilt both cities, the sack of Hadath represented a major success for Byzantium.[72]

First climax under Harun al-Rashid, 785–813[edit]

The Abbasid Caliphate under Harun al-Rashid

The accession of Harun al-Rashid in 786, following the short reign of al-Hadi (r. 785–786), heralded a new era of growing Muslim pressure on Byzantium. Harun was one of the most militarily active caliphs, and his expeditions against Byzantium included some of the largest ever assembled under the Abbasids. His interest in warfare against Byzantium was expressed by his relocation to Raqqa, to be nearer the frontier, and by his personal participation in campaigns against the Byzantines. In addition, he launched a major fortification programme and restructured the frontier provinces (see above). He was also one of the few caliphs to pay attention to his navy, and built up a fleet that often raided Cyprus and the southern littoral of Asia Minor as far as Rhodes.[73] This change in the two states' relative strength is in part attributable to the recovery of the Caliphate from the aftermath of the Abbasid Revolution, but also to the fact that Byzantium in turn was troubled by internal problems: the struggle over the worship of icons under Irene is frequently cited as contributing to the weakening of the pro-iconoclast army, and the near-civil war between the supporters of Irene and her son Constantine VI in the early 780s also sapped Byzantine strength. In addition, the Byzantine army was weakened by the losses suffered in its disastrous wars against the Bulgars.[74]

Although the actual military results of his reign were rather meagre, Harun's involvement in the Holy War served, along with his leading the hajj, chiefly to underline his carefully cultivated "public image of piety" (El Hibri) and as a "symbolic affirmation of the caliph's importance in the life of the Islamic community" (Kennedy).[75] Nevertheless, and continuing a trend started by his immediate predecessors, his reign also saw the development of far more regular contacts between the Abbasid court and Byzantium, with the exchange of embassies and letters being far more common than under the Umayyad rulers. Despite Harun's hostility, "the existence of embassies is a sign that the Abbasids accepted that the Byzantine empire was a power with which they had to deal on equal terms" (Kennedy).[76]

Harun against Irene and Constantine VI[edit]

During the first two years of al-Rashid's reign, Arab raids were minor affairs, but a larger raid occurred in September 788. The Byzantines opposed it at Podandos, just past the Cilician Gates, and were defeated. Among the Byzantine casualties was the tourmarches Diogenes, an officer celebrated for his bravery and a possible archetype for the literary hero Digenis Akritas.[77] In 790, an Arab fleet raided Cyprus and then headed for the coasts of Asia Minor. It was met by the Byzantine fleet off Attaleia, and in the subsequent battle, the Cibyrrhaeots' admiral, Theophilos, was captured. After four years he was offered rich rewards to convert to Islam, but refused and was beheaded, to be later canonized by the Byzantines. The Egyptian chronicler al-Kindi on the other hand reports that in the same year the Byzantines captured many soldiers who were being conveyed by sea from Egypt to Syria. It is possible that these two actions are identical, in which case the battle where Theophilos was captured may have been a Byzantine victory.[78] In the same year, the Byzantines reportedly received 12,000 Armenians as refugees from Arab-ruled homeland; the nobility were enrolled into the Byzantine army, and the common folk were given land.[79] BATTLE OF BAGREVAND? Nevertheless, the Byzantine military failures of the previous years, not only against the Arabs, but against the Lombards in Italy and against the Bulgars in Thrace as well, led to a major military revolt which removed Irene from power and handed control of the state to her son Constantine VI.[80]

In September 791 Constantine VI marched through Amorium to attack Tarsus, but had only reached the Lycaonian desert when, perhaps from scarcity of water, he returned to Constantinople.[81] In early 792 he restored his mother to her rank and place, which drove the Armeniacs, who had caused her downfall, to mutiny. He overcame them in 793 with the help of some Armenians within the Armeniac army. Constantine however failed to give the promised reward to the latter, and on 29 July they surrendered the strategic fortress of Kamacha, the only Byzantine stronghold east of the Euphrates, to the lieutenant of Abd al-Malik ibn Salih, Emir of Mesopotamia. In October of the same year, the Arabs under Abd al-Malik's son Abd ar-Rahman, staged another raid out of Hadath. They captured and razed Thebasa in Cappadocia, whose garrison was forced to surrender it after long resistance due to lack of water, on condition that they were allowed to go free.[82] In the autumn of 794 (although Syrian sources date this expedition to 791/792) Harun's son Sulayman, the governor of Hadath, invaded northern Asia Minor with reportedly 40,000 men. He was accompanied by the former Byzantine governor of Sicily Elpidius, who had fled to the Arabs after a failed rebellion in 782 and received recognition as Emperor; the Arabs probably hoped that they could set him up as a rival emperor in at least part of Asia Minor. The invading army however was met with the onset of an early and heavy winter, losing many men to cold, and a safe retreat was only obtained by making terms (January 795).[83]

In April 795 Constantine himself marched against another Arab raid in the Anatolic Rheme and defeated a party which had nearly reached the coast a place called Anusa on 8 May.[84] In 796, as Constantine was occupied with the Bulgarians, a raid under Mohammad ibn Mu'awiyah reached as far as Amorium; the city held, but the Arabs devastated the surrounding countryside and carried of captives.[85] In early 797 Rashid in person invaded the Empire by the Cilician Gates and seized the fortress known in Arabic as al-Safsaf ("the willow"). It was possibly in response to this invasion that Constantine, accompanied by Staurakios and other high-ranking officials took the field at the head of 20,000 cavalry in March. It was however cut short soon without meeting the Arab army; the Byzantine chroniclers blame Staurakios for bribing some soldiers to misinform the emperor that the Arabs had departed, but the real reason may be the death of Constantine's infant son and heir Leo on 1 May. A few months later, Constantine would be overthrown, imprisoned and probably murdered at the orders of his mother.[86] In summer, the Arabs followed up with a raid under Abd al-Malik did indeed invade the Empire in summer, plundering as far as Ancyra. Irene, now sole ruler, tried to arrange for a truce with Abd al-Malik, but was rebuffed.[87] In the next year, Abd al-Malik's forces reached as far as Malagina in Bithynia, from where they carried off the horses of the imperial ranches and the imperial baggage train, and others raided the important monastery of Sakkoudion. An army of the Opsician Theme under its governor Paul that tried to oppose them was defeated, while Abd ar-Rahman raided Lydia up to Ephesus.[88]

After this new and destructive raid, Irene sent another embassy, this time directly to Harun, under the Bishop of Sardeis Euthymios. The results of the embassy are unclear: traditional historiography has assumed that it was successful, as Theophanes mentions no more raids thereafter, and a late account by Ibn al-Athir states that a peace treaty was concluded repeating the stipulations of the 782 truce. In this interpretation, the willingness of Harun to come to terms has been explained by the renewed clashes with the Khazars in Armenia.[89] On the other hand, no such agreement is explicitly mentioned in contemporary sources, and both al-Tabari and Michael the Syrian mention two raids after 798, which were opposed by Irene's trusted eunuch Aetios as joint commander of the Anatolics and the Opsicians; the first confrontation was won by the Byzantines, and the second by the Arabs.[90]

Byzantine resurgence under Nikephoros I[edit]

Irene was deposed in a palace coup in October 802 and replaced by her finance minister ("General Logothete"), Nikephoros I.[91] Nikephoros was a capable and experienced man, and enjoyed a reputation for martial ability among the Arabs: according to Syriac sources, when the renegade Elpidius learned of his accession, he advised ‘Abd al-Malik to "throw away his silk and put on his armour". In addition, as General Logothete he was aware of Irene's mismanagement of the treasury, and was determined to reverse this. His first act in this direction was his refusal, in early 803, to pay the tribute due in the spring.[92] Nikephoros prepared for the inevitable Abbasid reprisal attack under Harun's son al-Qasim, and placed his troops in Asia Minor under Bardanes Tourkos. The troops however revolted, proclaimed Bardanes emperor, and marched towards Chrysopolis. The revolt failed to find support in the capital, however, and Bardanes soon capitulated. Nikephoros's preoccupation with the rebellion meant that Qasim's raid went unopposed: he crossed the Cilician Gates in early August and besieged Koron, while one of his lieutenants besieged a fort which the Arabs call Sinan; but, being distressed by lack of food and water, he agreed to retire upon 320 Muslim prisoners being released. Nikephoros then assembled his army and marched out himself to meet a second, larger invasion under the Caliph himself. After raiding the frontier zone, the two armies confronted another for two months in central Asia Minor, but it did not come to a battle; Nikephoros and Harun exchanged letters, until the Emperor arranged for a withdrawal and a truce for the remainder of the year in exchange for a one-off payment of tribute.[93]

In August 804, Harun dispatched Ibrahim ibn Jibril to lead the summer raid. Nikephoros set out to confront Ibrahim, but he soon turned back, perhaps due to reports of a conspiracy in Constantinople. On his march, he was surprised and defeated by the Arabs at Krasos. Nikephoros himself barely escaped, but due to the lateness of the season the Muslims were not able to follow up their success. Preoccupied with trouble in Khurasan, Harun accepted tribute and made peace, the Emperor agreeing not to rebuild the dismantled fortresses. An exchange of prisoners was also arranged and took place during the winter at the two empires' border on the Lamos river in Cilicia: some 3,700 Muslims were exchanged for the Byzantines taken captive in the previous years.[94] Harun then departed for Khurasan, leaving Qasim to watch over the Byzantine frontier. Nikephoros promptly used the opportunity: in spring, his troops rebuilt the destroyed walls of Safsaf, Thebasa and Ancyra, and in summer, he launched the first Byzantine raid in two decades into Cilicia. The Byzantine army raided the territory surrounding the fortresses of Mopsuestia and Anazarbus and took prisoners as it went. The garrison of Mopsuestia attacked the Byzantine force and recovered most of the prisoners and spoil, but the Byzantines marched on to Tarsus. The city, which had only been refortified and repopulated on Harun's orders in 786 to strengthen the Muslim hold on Cilicia, fell and the entire garrison was taken captive. At the same time, another Byzantine force raided the Mesopotamian thughur and unsuccessfully besieged the fortress of Melitene, while a Byzantine-instigated rebellion against the local Arab garrison began in Cyprus. Although the Byzantines left the areas they had invaded, Harun had reason to fear a possible re-occupation in the next year, which would alter the strategic balance in the region.[95]

"The thughūr are blocked by Hārūn, and through him
the ropes of the Muslim state are firmly plaited
His banner is forever tied with victory;
he has an army before which armies scatter.
All the kings of the Rūm give him jizya
unwillingly, perforce, out of hand in humiliation."

Poem in praise of Harun al-Rashid's 806 expedition against Byzantium[96]

Having settled matters in Khurasan, Harun returned to the west in November 805 and prepared a huge retaliatory expedition for 806: with troops from Syria, Palestine, Persia, and Egypt, reportedly numbering 135,000 regular troops and even more volunteers and freebooters, he crossed the frontier on 11 June, while a naval force under Humayd raided Cyprus. Harun marched to Tyana, which seems to have been abandoned, and which he established as his base of operations. His lieutenants, with half the army, were dispatched to the frontier zone and took several fortresses, laid siege to Cyzistra and raided across Cappadocia, with a detachment reaching as far as Ancyra. Harun himself with the other half of his forces besieged and captured Heraclea Cybistra. Nikephoros, outnumbered and threatened by the Bulgars in his rear, scored some successes against isolated raiders but was finally compelled to seak peace, sending three clerics as ambassadors. Peace was renewed on the basis of an annual tribute of 30,000 nomismata, but in addition the Emperor and his son Staurakios had to pay a personal poll-tax (jizya) to the Caliph, thereby acknowledging themselves the Caliph's servants. Nikephoros again promised not to rebuild the dismantled forts, and Rashid evacuated Byzantine territory. As soon, however, as the Arabs had withdrawn, the Emperor again restored the forts and ceased the payment of tribute.[97]

Harun retaliated in spring 807 by launching a raid of 10,000 men under Yazid ibn Makhlad al-Hubayri, but the Byzantines moved quickly to secure the Cilician Gates against passage. In the ensuing battle, the Arabs were defeated and Yazid killed. Harun then marched himself to the frontier zone. Instead of leading the invasion himself, however, he remained at Hadath. There he divided his forces, dispatching troops to rebuild Tarsus and bolster the garrisons of Hadath and Germanikeia, while the remaining 30,000 troops under Harthama ibn A'yan launched the actual raid. The Arab force was ment by Nikephoros in person, and after an indecisive battle both sides retreated. Worried by new reports of the rebellion of Rafi ibn al-Layth in Khurasan, Harun himself returned to Syria in mid-July. A naval expedition in late summer under Humayd had more success, raiding as far as the Peloponnese, where it fomented a rebellion among the local Slavs. The island of Rhodes was raided but the town itself resisted a siege, and Myra on the south coast of Asia Minor was ransacked. On his return, however, Humayd lost several ships to a storm. On the Peloponnese, the Slavic revolt was put down after failing to capture Patras.[98] The failure of the year's Abbasid efforts was compounded by the spread of the revolt in Khurasan, and prior to his departure for the East, Harun concluded a new truce, and another prisoner exchange was held at the Lamos in 808. Nikephoros was thus left with his gains intact: both the restored frontier fortifications and the cessation of tribute. Furthermore, after Harun's death on 24 March 809, a civil war broke out between his sons al-Amin and al-Ma'mun that focused the attentions of the Caliphate away from Byzantium for almost two decades.[99] Nikephoros was thus able to turn his attention to his fiscal reforms and to the recovery of the Balkans and his wars against the Bulgars. These would end tragically in the disastrous Battle of Pliska in 811, but the Caliphate was not able to exploit the Byzantine reversals.[100]

Interlude, 810–829[edit]

In all this turmoil, the more outlying regions of the Caliphate assumed more or less autonomy from the central government, under local governors, tribal leaders or under rebel leaders. The most dangerous of the latter was the Khurramite leader Babak, whose rebellion, centred in the mountains of Armenia and Azerbaijan, challenged not only Abbasid but Muslim rule in general. Although Ma'mun and his chief general, Abdullah ibn Tahir al-Khurasani, were able to restore control over his western provinces by 827, Babak's revolt proved more difficult to suppress. Making full use of the mountainous terrain of their home territories, and with the occasional support of the Byzantines, the Khurramites worsted one Abbasid army after another.[101]

Consequently, most of the Muslim raids into Asia Minor that are recorded until 813 by Ibn Wadhih were mostly small-scale affairs, organized by the practically autonomous local leaders of the thughur or various freebooters. [102][103] By ca. 819, most of the actual frontier zone and northern Syria were controlled by the Qaysi tribes under Nasr ibn Shabath al-'Uqayli, who resisted Ma'mun and did not finally submit until 824/825.[104][105] Indeed, in 819 Nasr, who in Syriac sources is described as being friendly to Christians,[105] went as far as to solicit the Byzantines for aid, via Manuel the Armenian. Emperor Leo V the Armenian (r. 813–820) dispatched envoys to him, but this aroused the indignation of Nasr's followers, and the envoys were executed.[106] The most significant Byzantine success during this period was the recovery of Kamacha. Arab accounts place this sometime between 809/810 and 813 and record that it was surrendered in exchange for the fort commandant's son, but Armenian sources date it to 816/817.[106][107] On the Muslim side, in 811 a raiding party surprised the Byzantines and sacked Euchaita, the capital of the Armeniac Theme. Leo the Armenian, the future emperor, was the local strategos at the time. He was dismissed and exiled, but after the death of Nikephoros he was recalled and placed as strategos of the Anatolics by Michael I Rangabe (r. 811–813). From this position, he scored a victory over a raid led by the Emir of Tarsus, Thabit ibn Nasr, in August 812.[106][108] In 815/816 Leo, now emperor, secured peace with the Bulgars at the expense of territorial concessions,[109] and shifted his attention east: he declared a trade embargo on Syria and Egypt, and in 817/818 he dispatched a fleet that raided the important Egyptian port of Damietta. Leo himself led a campaign east, but apparently did not invade Arab territory.[106][110]

Thomas the Slav negotiates with the Arabs. Miniature from the Madrid Skylitzes

Ma'mun countered the Byzantines by his support of the rebellion under Thomas the Slav in 820–823. Ma'mun recognized Thomas as Byzantine emperor and allowed for his coronation to take place at Antioch, probably in exchange for territorial concessions, and may have furnished him with troops, for the chronicles attest to the presence of Arab soldiers in Thomas's army. Thomas's revolt gathered the support of most themes but it failed, and it may have weakened the Empire and especially its navy, to such an extent as to facilitate the Muslim conquests of Crete and Sicily shortly after (see below).[106][111] It was also during this time that ‘Abdallah ibn Tahir was able to recapture Kamacha.[106] Al-Baladhuri records that, following his victory over Thomas, Michael II proposed a formal peace, but Ma'mun, who had just re-established his authority over the western provinces of the Caliphate, refused. Instead, he launched raiding parties into the Empire, who were defeated at Ancyra and at another place and lost one of their leaders.[112][113][114]

Baladhuri also reports a successful Byzantine attack on Zapetra in 825/826, but it is possible that this is a duplication of Theophilos's assault in 837 (see below).[115]


Theophilos vs Ma'mun and Mu'tasim, 829–842[edit]

Ma'mun's conquests, 830-833[edit]

INTRODUCE possible sack of Zapetra, Bury p. 472

The relative peace between Byzantium and the Caliphate, that had lasted since 807, was irrevokably broken under the new Byzantine emperor, Theophilos (r. 829–842).[117] Soon after Theophilos's accession, an experienced Byzantine general, Manuel the Armenian, was falsely accused of conspiring against Theophilos and fled to Baghdad; Theophilos soon sent an embassy under John the Grammarian after him, ostensibly in order to announce his accession, but in reality in order to offer him a pardon and persuade him to return. Manuel accepted, but bided his time for an opportune moment to defect back.[118] At about the same time, in 829, a large number of Khurramites fled to the Byzantine Empire and joined the ranks of the Byzantine army.[119]

830 CAMPAIGN: This open collusion with the Khurramites was probably one of the factors that induced Ma'mun to restart hostilities.[120] In addition, it is reported that he was encouraged to invade Byzantium by Manuel on his defection. It is also likely that the Caliph interpreted the lavish gifts of John the Grammarian's embassy as a sign of weakness from Theophilos,[118] particularly as Byzantine forces were still heavily engaged in Sicily.[121] Thus, in late March 830, the Caliph departed Baghdad, and marched north towards Tarsus at a leisurely pace; he even stopped on his way at Tikrit to celebrate the marriage of his daughter.[122] Finally, in July, the Caliph and his army reached Cilicia. From there he sent his son, al-Abbas, along with Manuel and a unit of Byzantine prisoners of war, against Babak's rebels, while he himself proceeded through the Cilician Gates (10 July) into Cappadocia. The little fort of Magida soon capitulated and its garrison was allowed to depart, and Koron (Ar. Qurra), the seat of the local tourmarches, was taken and destroyed on 21 July. The defenders were taken as slaves, but the Caliph bought them up and released them, giving each a gold nomisma. Ma'mun's generals 'Ujayf ibn 'Anbasa and Ashinas conquered Sinan and Soandus (Ar. Sundus) respectively. Finally, another detachment stormed Semaluos, after which, on 9 September, the Caliph retreated to winter at Damascus.[123] At the same time, Abbas and Manuel scored a few minor successes against the Khurramites. On their return, however, Manuel succeeded in diverting Abbas into Byzantine territory. There, during a hunting expedition, Manuel and his fellow Byzantine captives succeeded in disarming Abbas and his companions and escaping (November 830). Abbas was left to return to the Caliphate, while Manuel went to Constantinople, where an ecstatic Theophilos named him Domestic of the Schools.[124]

831 CAMPAIGN: In spring 831, Theophilos scored a victory against the Arabs of Cilicia: Arab sources report the loss of 1,600–2,000 men from Tarsus and Mopsuestia, while Theophanes Continuatus claims that the Emperor took 25,000 men prisoner. The details are unclear, with different sources reporting that Theophilos either invaded Cilicia or defeated an Arab raid near Charsianon. On his return to Constantinople, Theophilos held a triumphal entrance in the city.[125] Despite his success, Theophilos did not wish to continue warfare in the east: he sent an embassy with 500 Arab captives, to Ma'mun, asking for a truce. Theophilos's envoys met Ma'mun, already on his way to launch a retaliatory campaign, at Adana in Cilicia. The Caliph refused the Byzantine offer, and invaded the Cilician One was led by Ma'mun himself, one by Abbas, and one by Ma'mun's younger brother Abu Ishaq, the future Caliph al-Mu'tasim. Abu Ishaq seized and destroyed several minor forts, sparing their inhabitants, while Ma'mun raided the region known to the Arabs as Matamir, where large underground shelters were situated. One of his generals, Yahya ibn Aqtam, captured Tyana, taking many prisoners. Abbas led the more successful campaign: he seized the fortressess of Antigus, Kasin, and al-Ahrab, and came up against the Byzantine field army, led by Theophilos in person. The two forces engaged in a skirmish, which the Arabs won. Theophilos retreated, leaving rich spoils. On 24 September, the Arabs began their march south to Syria.[126]

832 CAMPAIGN: These defeats, coupled with the loss of Panormus in Sicily and the discovery of a conspiracy against him, led Theophilos to adopt a more hardline approach to iconoclasm and reinstate persecution of the iconophiles.[127] At the same time (January–April 832), Ma'mun was campaigning in Egypt, putting down a Coptic rebellion. On his return to Damascus, the Caliph found a Byzantine embassy headed by a bishop, possibly John the Grammarian again. Ma'mun refused to receive or answer Theophilos's letter, on the pretext that the Byzantine emperor had named himself first, and launched another invasion of Cappadocia.[128] His target was the strategically important fortress of Loulon, one of the key strongholds controlling the Cilician Gates. The Arabs laid siege to it in May, but the fortress, well defended and provisioned, held out for a hundred days against Arab attacks. As he could not take Loulon by storm or induce its garrison to surrender, Ma'mun ordered the construction of two new forts nearby, intending to blockade Loulon. He then left his army under the command of 'Ujayf ibn 'Anbasa, and departed for the frontier town of Salagus. The garrison of Loulon, however, managed to capture 'Ujayf by trickery, and sent word to Theophilos asking for aid. Theophilos responded by leading an army towards the frontier in September, but he was heavily defeated by the Arab garrisons of the two blockading forts, and fled back west. The Emperor's defeat disheartened the garrison at Loulon, and its commander negotiated the fort's surrender with 'Ujayf, in exchange for his men's safe departure. 'Ujayf agreed, and took possession of the fortress.[129]

Depiction of one of John the Grammarian's embassies in the Madrid Skylitzes

The capture of Loulon was a major success for the Caliphate. In the words of Warren Treadgold, "the raids on Cappadocia were beginning to look like conquest, since the Arabs had driven most of the Byzantine resistance out of the country, had established a strong base, and were preparing to winter on the Byzantine side of the Cilician Gates."[130] Theophilos sent yet another embassy under John the Grammarian. In his dispatch to the Caliph, the Emperor praised the benefits of peace and commerce, and offered 100,000 nomismata and the return of 7,000 Muslim captives in exchange for the fortresses the Muslims had seized and a five-year truce. Otherwise, he threatened to launch attacks of his own on Arab territory. Ma'mun replied in a letter of his own that he had no interest in peace or commerce, and demanded that Theophilos and the Byzantines either accept Islam or otherwise pay the jizya. Theophilos did not send a reply.[131]

833 CAMPAIGN: Over the winter, Ma'mun began assembling a large army in northern Syria, with levies drawn from the Syrian districts, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Iraq. The Caliph now publicly announced his intention to advance to Amorium—the native city of Byzantium's reigning Amorian dynasty—and beyond it to Constantinople. In preparation for this, on 25 May 833, Abbas crossed the frontier and made for Tyana, which was rebuilt and refortified to serve as a Muslim military colony and base for the advance further west.[132] Theophilos responded by intensifying the persecution of iconophiles, hoping to attain divine favour, and sent yet another embassy to Ma'mun, who crossed the Cilician passes on 9 July and made for the fortress of Podandos. Theophilos promised to repay the Caliph his expenses, return all Arab captives and to restore whatever Arab districts had suffered from Byzantine raids, if the Caliph would agree to a truce. Ma'mun rejected Theophilos's offers and then proceeded to reduce the border forts that still remained in Byzantine hands. He then returned to Pdandos, where he suddenly fell ill and died on 7 August.[133]


Byzantium was saved in the nick of time; the position of Ma'mun's successor, al-Mu'tasim, was insecure, as a large part of the army favoured Ma'mun's son Abbas, and even tried to proclaim him as the new Caliph. In addition, the threat of the Khurramite rebels remained in his rear. Thus Mu'tasim called of the expedition, abandoned Tyana and returned with his army to the Caliphate.[134] Over the next four tyears, relative tranquility reigned along the Arab-Byzantine frontier as Ma'mun focused his attention against the Khurramites and other rebels. In late 833, the Abbasid armies destroyed a major Khurramite stronghold in the Zagros Mountains under a certain Nasr, allegedly killing over 60,000 Khurramites and taking their women and children prisoner. Nasr, with 14,000 of his followers, then fled to the Byzantine Empire. Theophilos enrolled them as a special "Persian" corps in his army, commanded by Nasr, who was baptized a Christian along with his troops and named Theophobos.[135]


Siege of Amorium.jpg

In 835 the rebels were defeated, and Omar, Emir of Melitene, was able to invade the Empire. Theophilus himself met the marauders and was at first victorious, but in a second battle he was put to flight and his camp was pillaged. In 836, however, the imperial forces were increased by the adhesion of another party of Khurramis under Nasr the Kurd; and, the Arabs having just then been defeated by Babak, Theophilus invaded Armenia, where he massacred many of the inhabitants, and after exacting tribute from Theodosiopolis returned, bringing many Armenian families with him ; but a force which he left behind was routed in Vanand. In 837, urged by Babak, he again crossed the frontier and for the second time destroyed Sozopetra, where Nasr's Kurds perpetrated a general massacre among the Christian and Jewish male inhabitants. Theophilus then pillaged the district of Melitene, passed on into Anzetene, besieged Arsamosata, which, after defeating a relieving force, he took and burned, carried off captives from Armenia Quarta, which he laid waste, and returned to Melitene; but, expecting another attack, he accepted hostages from the garrison with some Roman prisoners and presents and withdrew. 'Ujaif, whom the Caliph sent against him, overtook him near Charsianum, but the small Arab force was almost annihilated. This summer Babak was finally defeated, and soon afterwards taken and beheaded; and Mu'tasim, now free to pursue the war with vigour, started with a larger force than had yet followed a Caliph to invade the Empire. He left Samarra on 5 April 838, and at Batnae (Saruj) sent Afshin through the pass of Adata, while the rest of the army went on to Tarsus, where he again divided his forces, sending Ashnas through the Cilician Gates (19 June), while he himself followed two days later, the destination of all three divisions being Ancyra. Afshin took the longer road by Sebastea in order to effect a junction with the troops of Melitene and those of Armenia, which included many Turks and the forces of the native princes. Mu'tasim, having heard that Theophilus was encamped on the Halys, ordered Ashnas, who had reached the plain, to await his own arrival. The Emperor, however, had gone to meet Afshin, and in the

p. 130: battle which followed near Dazimon on the Iris (24 July) the Romans were at first successful; but heavy rain and mist came on, most of the army, unable to find the Emperor, left the field, and Theophilus, persuaded that the Persians meant to betray him, with a few followers cut his way through the enemy and escaped, while those who remained lit fires to deceive the Arabs and retired. Ancyra having been evacuated on the news of the battle, Theophilus ordered his forces to concentrate at Amorium under the Anatolic strategus Aetius, while he himself, having received information of a conspiracy, returned to Constantinople. Meanwhile Ashnas occupied Corum, and, after destroying Nyssa and learning from fugitives of the Emperor's defeat, entered Ancyra. Here Mu'tasim and Afshin joined him, and, having destroyed Ancyra, the united forces advanced to Amorium, the chief city of the Anatolic theme and the birthplace of Theophilus' father (2 August). Here a stubborn resistance was offered, but an Arab captive, who had turned Christian and was known as Manicophagus, showed them a weak spot; the main attack was directed against this point, until Boiditzes, who commanded in this quarter, finding resistance hopeless,admitted the enemy (13 August). The town was then destroyed, and a massacre followed. Meanwhile Theophilus, who was at Dorylaeum, sent presents to Mu'tasim with a letter in which he apologised for the slaughter at Sozopetra, saying that it was committed without his orders, and offered to rebuild it and release all prisoners in return for peace; but the Caliph would not see the envoy till Amorium had fallen, and then refused terms unless Manuel and Nasr were surrendered, returning the presents. On 25 September he began his retreat by the direct road through the desert, where many perished from thirst; and many prisoners who were unable to march, and others who killed some soldiers and fled, were put to death. The chief officers were preserved alive; but Aetius was crucified on reaching Samarra, and about forty others suff'ered death seven years later (5 March 845)i After this the Caliph was occupied with the conspiracy of 'Abbas, who had been in correspondence with Theophilus;

Following the sack of Amorium, the new emir of Syria and Jazira, Abu Sa'id, launched a raid (838/839) headed by the commander of Mopsuestia. The Arabs seized many captives and cattle, but on their return they were attacked by the Kurds under Nasr, who recovered the prisoners. Abu Sa'id however took the field himself: Nasr fell, and his men were killed defending his corpse.[136][137] At about this time, ca. 839/840, a Byzantine fleet sacked Seleucia in Syria, which was quickly rebuilt by Abu Sa'id. In 840/841, Abu Sa'id launched another raid into Byzantine territory, but the Byzantines pursued him and recovered the captives he had taken; and in a second invasion in the same year resulted in the capture of Hadath and Germanikeia during the Byzantine counterattack.[136][138] Theophilos now repeated his requests for peace, and his successes induced Mu'tasim to be more forthcoming: a truce was concluded and a prisoner exchange arranged, although the most important captives of Amorium were not included in it. Mu'tasim nevertheless intended to resume the offensive against Byzantium, began building a fleet in preparation for another attack on Constantinople. Shortly after the Caliph's death in January 842, however, this fleet of 400 ships, under Abu Dinar, was wrecked by a storm off the coast of Lycia on its way to the Aegean.[139][140]

Théophile eut, pendant les quatre premières années de son règne, comme contemporain, le calife Ma'mun (813-833). L'activité de ce souverain offre plus d'un trait commun avec celle de Théophile (1). Comme Théophile, Ma'mun s'intéressa aux questions religieuses et provoqua une vive opposition par ses innovations. Comme lui, Ma'mun s'adonna à la poésie. Un jour, un poète qui lui récitait l'une de ses nouvelles compositions fut très étonné en entendant le calife lui emprunter un vers pris au hasard et improviser facilement la suite (2). Il composa aussi quelques oeuvres théologiques (8). L'architecture et les autres arts, comme les sciences, fleurirent sous son règne et le palais d'été de l'empereur byzantin que nous avons cité plus haut, imitait un palais du calife.[141]

The decline of Abbasid power and the rise of the frontier emirates[edit]

Theophilos and Mu'tasim were both succeeded by weaker regimes: the reign of Mu'tasim's indifferent successor, al-Wathiq (r. 842–847), was troubled by domestic unrest, while in Byzantium, Theophilos's son, Michael III, was underage and under the regency of his mother Theodora and the logothete Theoktistos. The only land campaigns of note occured in 844, when a major Abbasid raid, involving forces from the frontier emirates of Qaliqala (Erzurum), Melitene and Tarsus, reached deep into Bithynia and defeated Theoktistos himself at the Battle of Mauropotamos. An exchange of embassies between the Byzantine and Abbasid courts followed, which agreed on a prisoner exchange that was held at the Lamos on 16 September 845.[142][143][144] The Emir of Taruss, Ahmad ibn Sa'id ibn Salm ibn Qutayba, then launched a winter raid with 7,000 men, which ended in disaster: 200 men were killed, 200 taken prisoner, and many other drowned in a river. On the approach of a Byzantine army, he beat a hasty retreat, carrying several thousand animals with him as booty. The Caliph, furius at his failure, dismissed him. Ahmad's raid was the last such opertion for six years.[145][146]

As the events of these years show, the initiative in the Muslim Holy War passed from the Abbasid central government to the hands of the frontier governors. With the decline of the caliphal central government's power after 842, these men were largely left to their own devices, and became virtually autonomous rulers. Thus, during the 850s and after, the most persistent threats to the Byzantine Empire along its eastern frontier were the emirate of Malatya under Umar al-Aqta, which dominated the Mesopotamian sector of the thughur, the emirate of Tarsus under Ali ibn Yahya al-Armani, in eastern Cilicia, the emirate of Qaliqala in Armenia Minor and the Paulician principality of Tephrike under their Karbeas. Despite the constant menace they represented for Byzantine territory, their efforts were not always coordinated, and as often as not they fought amongst themselves or against other local leaders.[147][148][149]VERIFY THESE TWO:[150] The Paulicians in particular were an implacable foe of the Empire. They were a religious sect resident in Asia Minor that was persecuted both under the iconoclast and under the iconophile emperors, until Empress-regent Theodora ordered their complete eradication in 843. Under their leader Karbeas, thousands fled the Empire and sought refuge and help from Umar al-Aqta, who gave them lands north of Malatya, where they founded their own state around the three cities of Tephrike, Argaous, and Amara.[151][152]

In 851, the Byzantines took advantage of a revolt in Arab Armenia to recover Kamacha, this time for good; they also attacked Qaliqala and Arsamosata unsuccessfully, but an Armenian-Byzantine force succeeded in defeating and killing Yusuf, the Arab governor of Armenia, in a battle at Taron in March 852. They failed to exploit their victory, however, as Muslim reinforcements arrived soon after.[142] In 853, the Byzantine fleet scored a major success, sacking the Egyptian port of Damietta and seizing great store of arms destined for Crete, while two other squadrons raided the coasts of Syria. The expedition was repeated with success the next year, with the Byzantines staying at Damietta and raiding for a whole month. [153]

In 855, the Byzantines sacked Anazarbus and carried of the Gypsies settled there since 835.[153][154] In its aftermath, the Empress-regent Theodora asked for a truce to which Caliph al-Mutawwakil responded with the dispatch of his envoy Nasr to Constantinople. The negotiations resulted in another prisoner exchange on the Lamos, on 21 February 856.[153] In summer 856, Michael III's uncle Petronas marched from Kamacha and raided the districts around Samosata and Amida (Diyar Bakr). On his return, he marched through the territory of Tephrike; Karbeas and Umar pursues him, but without success.[155][156] In late summer 858, the Arabs under Bugha the Elder invaded Cappadocia and captured Semaluos. [157] In 859, Michael III himself took the field, under the effective tutelage of his uncle, Bardas, who had become regent in place of Theodora in 856. Bardas targeted Samosata and set siege to the city, however a sudden sally by the defenders, among who were Karbeas and his Paulicians, broke the Byzantine army, which fled. SEE EHW ON OTHER OUTCOME OF CAMPAIGN[157][158]

In the same year, Constantine Triphyllios was sent to Samarra at the head of an embassy, asking for another, more general, prisoner exchange. The Caliph sent again Nasr, whose description of his embassy is provided in full by al-Tabari. The negotiations were delayed by events at the strategic fortress of Loulon, where the Arab garrison, not having received their pay, excluded their commandant from the town and offered to surrender the fortress to Michael and accept Christianity (November). When the emperor sent a patrikios to take possession of the fort, however, the garrison took him captive and handed him over to the Caliph (March 860). On the news reaching Constantinople negotiations were resumed, and the general exchange took place at the end of April.[157][159]

In 860 a still more formidable force, which included the Thracian and Macedonian as well as the Asiatic themes, set out under the Emperor himself to meet Omar and Carbeas, who had reached Sinope; but Michael was recalled by the news that a Russian fleet had come to the mouth of the Mauropotamus^ on its way to Constantinople. After the retreat of the Russians (June) he rejoined the army and overtook the enemy at Chonarium near Dazimon, but was defeated and was glad even to secure a safe retreat. The same year a fleet under Fadl took Attalia. In 863 Omar with a large force sacked the flourishing city of Amisus, and Bardas, who was himself no general, placed his brother Petronas at the head of a vast army which comprised the Asiatic and European themes and the household troops. Omar marched south, intending to return by way of Brooks134 Arabissus ; but at Poson near the right bank of the Halys, probably not far from Nyssa, the Arabs found the surrounding hills occupied and were almost annihilated (3 September). Here the old Emir fell fighting, while his son with 100 men escaped over the Halys, but was captured by the clisurarch of Charsianum.

Having thus crushed the raiders from Melitene, Bardas set himself to crush those from Crete, who had extended their ravages to Proconnesus, and in 866 he and Michael marched to the mouth of the Maeander to cross to the island ; but he was foully assassinated (21 April) and the expedition abandoned. Crete therefore remained a pirates'* nest for nearly 100 years longer.

The Byzantines moved quickly to take advantage of their victory: a Byzantine army invaded Arab-held Armenia, and sometime in October–November, defeated and killed Ali ibn Yahya, who had been appointed the region's governor the previous year.[160] Thus, within a single campaigning season, the Byzantines had eliminated the three most dangerous opponents on their eastern border.[161] In retrospect, these successes proved decisive. Raids continued until the mid-10th century, by the forces of local emirs (chiefly Tarsus), bands of volunteers or, in the end, under the leadership of the Hamdanid Sayf al-Dawla. Lalakaon however represented "the turning point in the long drawn-out-series of Romano-Arab hostilities" (Toynbee) as it permanently destroyed the power of Malatya and altered the strategic balance in the region decisively in Byzantium's favour: from the 870s on, under the new Macedonian dynasty, the Byzantines began expanding their frontier at the expense of the Muslims, culminating in the Byzantine "Age of Reconquest" of the 10th century.[162][163][164][165]

Si les Arabes pénétrèrent assez profondément dans l'Asie Mineure, s'ils détruisirent en 838 Amorium, s'ils prirent en 863 Amisos (Samsun) sur la Mer Noire, et poussèrent jusqu'à Sinope et Nicomédie, toutes ces conquêtes n'eurent qu'un caractère passager. Après ces victoires, les Arabes s'en retournaient, et les territoires conquis restaient aux mains des Byzantins. Finalement, la dynastie d'Amorium ne perdit rien en Orient ; et la ligne des forteresses de la frontière resta, sous Michel III, celle que nous voyons au début de notre exposé des événements d'Orient sous l'empereur Théophile. Ainsi, la dynastie d'Amorium, durant quarante-sept ans, sut repousser les agressions arabes. Elle conserva l'intégrité du territoire en Asie Mineure. Et si, à cause de la damnatio memoriae de Michel III, la victoire de 863 n'a pas été célébrée comme elle le mérite par les contemporains, il est temps de rétablir, à cet égard, la vérité historique. En 867, lorsque Michel III mourut assassiné, il avait pour deux siècles conjuré le péril musulman. Ses successeurs pourront passer à l'offensive. L'extermination de la « grande armée de Mélitène », avec ‘Omar-al~ Aqta' à sa tète, fut, jusqu'aux croisades, la plus grande déroute de l'Islam ;[166]

Sicily and Italy[edit]

SICILY[167] S. ITALY[168]

While a relative equilibrium reigned in the East, the situation in the western Mediterranean was irretrievably altered when the Aghlabids began their slow conquest of Sicily in the 820s. Using Tunisia as their launching pad, the Arabs started by conquering Palermo in 831, Messina in 842, Enna in 859, culminating in the capture of Syracuse in 878. This in turn opened up southern Italy and the Adriatic Sea for raids and settlement. Byzantium further suffered an important setback with the loss of Crete to a band of Andalusian exiles, who established a piratical emirate on the island and for more than a century ravaged the coasts of the hitherto secure Aegean Sea.

Dès leur apparition en Sicile, les Arabes commencèrent assez rapidement la conquête de l'île en progressant d'Ouest en Est. Après avoir lutté, avec des succès variables, pendant quatre ans (827-831) et s'être installés dans Palerme, ils s'emparèrent pendant la décade suivante d'un riche district de la partie occidentale de la Sicile, le Val di Mazara, où ils établirent leurs premières colonies. De 841 à 859, les Musulmans prirent encore le Val di Nota, région montagneuse du Sud-Est. Après avoir étouffé, en 860, une révolte des Chrétiens de Sicile, ils dirigèrent leurs efforts vers la partie Nord-Est de l'île, le Val Demone, où ils conquirent Messine (3). A la fin de la dynastie d'Amorium, de toutes les grandes villes siciliennes, les chrétiens ne gardaient plus que Syracuse, qui succomba bientôt après, sous Basile le Macédonien[169] La Crète et la Sicile furent perdues pour Byzance, la première jusqu'à l'année 961, la seconde pour toujours.[170] Mais on aurait tort de reprocher aux Byzantins de n'avoir pas opposé une résistance assez énergique aux Arabes d'Occident. En Sicile, par example, les Byzantins se défendirent vigoureusement, avec plus d'un retour offensif. La cour byzantine, bien qu'occupée au IXe siècle parles événements militaires d'Orient et du Nord, et par les problèmes complexes de la politique religieuse, à l'intérieur, songeait sans cesse à la lointaine province occidentale, et, à la première occasion, envoyait en Sicile des renforts tant en vaisseaux qu'en troupes[171] Mais la dynastie d'Amorium était bien forcée de « sérier les questions ». Le théâtre principal de la lutte contre l'Islam restait l'Asie Mineure. Là, il fallait tenir à tout prix. Et l'on tint[172]

Crete and the Aegean[edit]


The defeat of the Alexandrian fleet at the Battle of Keramaia in Cyprus in 746 was a signal event: in its aftermath, the Egyptian fleets are not mentioned until the second half of the 9th century. Beginning with E. W. Brooks in 1913, many scholars assumed that during this entire period, there was no Egyptian navy to speak of. Although Egypt clearly ceased to be a major base for naval activities against Byzantium, Arabic and Coptic sources clearly mention the presence of an arsenal at Fustat and of naval activity in Egypt as late as ca. 770. Nevertheless, the turmoils of the Abbasid Revolution and the subsequent period clearly had an effect. The coastal marches were also deserted of their voluntary garrisons at this period, and in the 810s the Byzantines exploited this weakness to launch raids against the Egyptian coast.[174]

At about this time, an event occurred that transformed the naval balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean: the arrival of a large group of Andalusian exiles. These exiles had a long history of wanderings behind them. Traditionally they have been described as the survivors of a failed revolt against the emir al-Hakam I of Córdoba in 818. In the aftermath of its suppression, the citizens of the Córdoban suburb of al-Rabad were exiled en masse. Some settled in Fez in Morocco, but others, numbering over 10,000, took to piracy, probably joined by other Andalusians, landed in Alexandria and took control of the city until 827, when they were besieged and expelled by the Abbasid general Abdullah ibn Tahir al-Khurasani. The presence of Andalusian corsairs in Alexandria, however, is recorded as early as 798/9, and their takeover is dated to 814; furthermore, the Andalusians' leader, Umar ibn Hafs ibn Shuayb ibn Isa al-Balluti, commonly known as Abu Hafs, came from a locality (Fahs al-Ballut) that was far from Córdoba.[175][176] These Andalusians were engaged in raids across the Mediterranean, and frequently raided the Greek islands, both before and after their establishment at Alexandria; Pope Mark II of Alexandria alone is said to have ransomed over 6,000 slaves captured during these raids.[177] Sometime in the late 820s—the exact chronology is uncertain, but following the Muslim sources, it is usually dated to 827 or 828, after their expulsion from Alexandria—they landed in Crete, and conquered the island.[178] Byzantine sources however seem to contradict this, placing their landing soon after the suppression of the large revolt of Thomas the Slav (821–823). Further considerations regarding the number and chronology of the Byzantine campaigns launched against the invaders and prosopographical questions of the Byzantine generals that headed them have led other scholars like Vassilios Christides and Christos Makrypoulias to propose an earlier date, ca. 824.[179] Crete had been the target of Muslim attacks since the first wave of the Muslim conquests,[180] but was never conquered as it lay too far from the Arab naval bases in the Levant.[181]

The Saracen fleet sails towards Crete. Miniature from the Madrid Skylitzes manuscript.

Under the terms of their agreement with Ibn Tahir, the Andalusians and their families left Alexandria in 40 ships. Historian Warren Treadgold estimates them at some 12,000 people, of whom about 3,000 would be fighting men.[182] According to Byzantine historians, the Andalusians were already familiar with Crete, having raided it in the past. They also claim that the Muslim landing was initially intended as a raid, and was transformed into a bid for conquest when Abu Hafs himself set fire to their ships. However, as the Andalusian exiles had brought their families along, this is probably later invention.[183] The Andalusians' landing-place is also unknown; some scholars think that it was at the north coast, at Suda Bay or near where their main city and fortress Chandax (Arabic: ربض الخندق‎‎, rabḍ al-ḫandaq, "Castle of the Moat", modern Heraklion) was later built,[183][184] but others think that they most likely landed on the south coast of the island and then moved to the more densely populated interior and the northern coast.[185][186]

As soon as Emperor Michael II learned of the Arab landing, and before the Andalusians had secured their control over the entire island, he reacted and sent successive expeditions to recover the island.[187] Losses suffered during the revolt of Thomas the Slav hampered Byzantium's ability to respond, however, and if the landing occurred in 827/828, the diversion of ships and men to counter the gradual conquest of Sicily by the Tunisian Aghlabids also interfered.[188] The first expedition, under Photeinos, strategos of the Anatolic Theme, and Damian, Count of the Stable, was defeated in open battle, where Damian was killed.[189][187][190] The next expedition was sent a year later and comprised 70 ships under the strategos of the Cibyrrhaeots Krateros. It was initially victorious, but the overconfident Byzantines were then routed in a night attack. Krateros managed to flee to Kos, but there he was captured by the Arabs and crucified.[191][192] Makrypoulias suggests that these campaigns must have taken place before the Andalusians completed their construction of Chandax, where they transferred the capital from the inland site of Gortyn.[193]

Map of the Aegean Sea, with Crete in the bottom

Abu Hafs repulsed the early Byzantine attacks and slowly consolidated control of the entire island.[192] He recognized the suzerainty of the Abbasid Caliphate, but he ruled as a de facto independent prince.[183] The conquest of the island was of major importance as it transformed the naval balance of power in the Eastern Mediterranean and opened the hitherto secure Aegean Sea littoral to frequent and devastating raids.[194]

The Andalusians also occupied several of the Cyclades during these early years, but Michael II organized another large-scale expedition, recruiting an entire new marine corps, the Tessarakontarioi, and building new ships. Under the admiral Ooryphas, this fleet managed to evict the Arabs from the Aegean islands but failed to retake Crete.[195][196] Michael II's successor Theophilos (r. 829–842) sent an embassy to Abd ar-Rahman II of Córdoba proposing a joint action against the Andalusian exiles, but beyond Abd ar-Rahman giving his assent to any Byzantine action against Crete, this came to nothing.[183] In October 829, the Cretans destroyed an imperial fleet off Thasos, undoing much of the work of Ooryphas and opening the Aegean and its coasts to pillage.[197][198][199] Later they attacked Euboea (ca. 835–840), Lesbos (837), and the coasts of the Thracesian Theme, where they destroyed the monastic centre of Mount Latros. They were heavily defeated, however, by the local strategos, Constantine Kontomytes.[183][200][201]

After the death of Theophilos in 842, new measures to confront the Cretan threat were undertaken by the new Byzantine regime: in 843 a new maritime theme, that of the Aegean Sea, was established to better deal with the Saracen raids, and another expedition to recover Crete was launched under the personal leadership of the powerful logothetes and regent Theoktistos. Although it succeeded in occupying much of the island, Theoktistos had to abandon the army due to political intrigues in Constantinople, and the troops left behind were slaughtered by the Arabs.[202][203] In an effort to weaken the Saracens in 853, several Byzantine fleets engaged in coordinated operations in the Eastern Mediterranean, attacking the Egyptian naval base of Damietta and capturing weapons intended for Crete.[183][198] Despite some Byzantine successes against the Arabs in the following years, the Cretans resumed their raids in the early 860s, attacking the Peloponnese, the Cyclades, and Athos.[183][204] In 866, the Byzantine Caesar Bardas assembled another large-scale expeditionary force to subdue Crete, but his murder by Basil the Macedonian only two weeks after the fleet set sail from the capital spelled the end of the undertaking.[205][206]


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  2. ^ Kennedy (2001), pp. 126–128
  3. ^ Treadgold (1988), p. 353
  4. ^ Kaegi 2008, p. 365.
  5. ^ Blankinship 1994, pp. 19–31.
  6. ^ Lilie 1976, pp. 40–82.
  7. ^ Blankinship 1994, pp. 104–106, 117.
  8. ^ Brooks 1923, p. 120.
  9. ^ Rochow 1994, p. 73.
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  11. ^ Lilie 1976, pp. 97–162.
  12. ^ El Hibri 2011, p. 302.
  13. ^ a b c Treadgold 1988, p. 18.
  14. ^ Kennedy 2004, pp. 133–134.
  15. ^ Vasiliev 1935, pp. 2-4, 7-8.
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  18. ^ El Hibri 2011, pp. 278–279.
  19. ^ Kennedy 2001, pp. 105–106.
  20. ^ Blankinship 1994, pp. 117–118.
  21. ^ Toynbee 1973, pp. 107ff..
  22. ^ Whittow 1996, pp. 89–95.
  23. ^ Whittow 1996, pp. 160–163.
  24. ^ a b c d e f Cahen 1991, p. 505.
  25. ^ El Hibri 2011, p. 274.
  26. ^ El Hibri 2011, p. 279.
  27. ^ Kennedy 2001, p. 106.
  28. ^ Kennedy 2001, pp. 97–98.
  29. ^ El Hibri 2011, pp. 284–286.
  30. ^ El Hibri 2011, p. 290.
  31. ^ El Hibri 2011, pp. 296–297.
  32. ^ Cahen 1991, pp. 505–506.
  33. ^ El Hibri 2011, pp. 299–301.
  34. ^ Bonner 2010, pp. 313–327.
  35. ^ El Hibri (2011), p. 291
  36. ^ Vasiliev (1935), pp. 12-13
  37. ^ Treadgold (1988), pp. 14–18
  38. ^ a b c El Hibri (2011), p. 281
  39. ^ Toynbee (1973), pp. 108–109
  40. ^ El-Cheikh (2004), pp. 83–84
  41. ^ Kennedy (2004), pp. 143, 275
  42. ^ Toynbee (1973), p. 108; Treadgold (1988), p. 13
  43. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 120; Toynbee (1973), p. 115
  44. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 120; Blankinship (1994), pp. 105, 118–119; Toynbee (1973), pp. 109–111
  45. ^ Lilie (1976), pp. 92–93
  46. ^ cf. Haldon (1997), pp. 99–114; Blankinship (1994), pp. 118–119; Toynbee (1973), pp. 112–114
  47. ^ Kennedy (2004) p. 120
  48. ^ Toynbee (1973), pp. 118–119
  49. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 120; Toynbee (1973), p. 299
  50. ^ Toynbee (1973), pp. 114–115
  51. ^ Kennedy (2001), p. 98
  52. ^ Kazhdan (1991), pp. 238, 902–903; Kennedy (2004), pp. 143, 275–276; Toynbee (1973), p. 113; Whittow (1996), pp. 212–213
  53. ^ Kennedy (2004), p. 115
  54. ^ Lilie (1996), p. 147; Rochow (1994), pp. 74–78
  55. ^ Lilie (1996), pp. 147–149
  56. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 121; Rochow (1994), pp. 76–77
  57. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 121
  58. ^ Brooks (1923), pp. 121–122; Rochow (1994), pp. 77, 87-88
  59. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 121; Rochow (1994), p. 77
  60. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 122; Kennedy (2004), pp. 128–129
  61. ^ a b Brooks (1923), p. 122
  62. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 122; Rochow (1994), pp. 74, 77
  63. ^ Brooks (1923), pp. 122-123; Rochow (1994), p. 78
  64. ^ a b c Brooks (1923), p. 123
  65. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 123; Treadgold (1988), pp. 33–34
  66. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 123; Treadgold (1988), p. 34
  67. ^ Kennedy (2001), p. 106
  68. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 124; Lilie (1996), p. 148; Treadgold (1988), p. 34
  69. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 124; Lilie (1996), p. 148; Treadgold (1988), pp. 66–67
  70. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 124; Lilie (1996), pp. 150–152; Treadgold (1988), pp. 67–70
  71. ^ Lilie (1996), pp. 153–154
  72. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 125; Treadgold (1988), pp. 78-79
  73. ^ Kazhdan (1991), pp. 902–903
  74. ^ Lilie (1996), pp. 155–156, 168
  75. ^ El-Cheikh (2004), pp. 89–90; El Hibri (2011), p. 280; Kennedy (2004), pp. 143–144
  76. ^ cf. El-Cheikh (2004), pp. 90ff.; Kennedy (2004), p. 146
  77. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 125; Lilie (1996), p. 156; Treadgold (1988), p. 91
  78. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 125; Lilie (1996), pp. 157–158; Treadgold (1988), pp. 93–94
  79. ^ Lilie (1996), p. 164
  80. ^ Treadgold (1988), pp. 95–96
  81. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 125; Lilie (1996), p. 158; Treadgold (1988), p. 98
  82. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 125; Lilie (1996), p. 158; Treadgold (1988), pp. 99, 101–102
  83. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 125; Lilie (1996), p. 163; Treadgold (1988), pp. 102–103
  84. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 125; Lilie (1996), p. 159; Treadgold (1988), pp. 104–105
  85. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 125; Lilie (1996), p. 159
  86. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 125; Lilie (1996), pp. 160–161, 164; Treadgold (1988), pp. 107–109
  87. ^ Brooks (1923), pp. 125-126; Lilie (1996), pp. 161, 164; Treadgold (1988), pp. 111–112
  88. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 126; Lilie (1996), pp. 162, 164–165; Treadgold (1988), p. 113
  89. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 126; Bury (1912), p. 249; Treadgold (1988), p. 113
  90. ^ Bury (1912), p. 249 (n. 1); Lilie (1996), pp. 165–167
  91. ^ Treadgold (1988), pp. 119–120
  92. ^ Treadgold (1988), pp. 127–130
  93. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 126; Treadgold (1988), pp. 131–133
  94. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 126; Treadgold (1988), p. 135
  95. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 126; Treadgold (1988), pp. 135, 138–139
  96. ^ El-Cheikh (2004), p. 90
  97. ^ Brooks (1923), pp. 126–127; Bury (1912), p. 250; Kennedy (2001), p. 106; Treadgold (1988), pp. 144–146
  98. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 127; Treadgold (1988), pp. 147–148
  99. ^ Treadgold (1988), pp. 155, 157
  100. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 127; cf. Treadgold (1988), pp. 144–152, 157ff.
  101. ^ El Hebri (2011), pp. 286–287
  102. ^ Bury (1912), p. 252 (n. 2)
  103. ^ Treadgold (1988), p. 157
  104. ^ Kennedy (2004), p. 154
  105. ^ a b Vasiliev (1935), p. 91
  106. ^ a b c d e f Cite error: The named reference Brooks127 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  107. ^ Treadgold (1988), pp. 219, 419–420 (n. 299)
  108. ^ Treadgold (1988), pp. 197–198
  109. ^ Treadgold (1988), p. 217
  110. ^ Treadgold (1988), p. 219
  111. ^ Vasiliev (1935), pp. 22–32, 49
  112. ^ Bury (1912), p. 251 (n. 3)
  113. ^ Brooks (1923), pp. 127–128
  114. ^ Vasiliev (1935), p. 49
  115. ^ Vasiliev (1935), p. 41
  116. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 128
  117. ^ Vasiliev (1935), pp. 90–91
  118. ^ a b Treadgold (1988), p. 268
  119. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 128; Bury (1912), p. 252
  120. ^ Bury (1912), p. 252
  121. ^ Vasiliev (1935), p. 98
  122. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 128; Treadgold (1988), p. 268; Vasiliev (1935), p. 98
  123. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 128; Bury (1912), pp. 472–473; Treadgold (1988), pp. 272–273; Vasiliev (1935), pp. 99–103
  124. ^ Treadgold (1988), p. 273; Vasiliev (1935), p. 103
  125. ^ Bury (1912), p. 473; Treadgold (1988), pp. 275 (n. 380), 434; Vasiliev (1935), pp. 103–105
  126. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 128; Treadgold (1988), pp. 275–276; Vasiliev (1935), pp. 110–112
  127. ^ Treadgold (1988), pp. 276–278
  128. ^ Bury (1912), p. 476; Treadgold (1988), p. 278; Vasiliev (1935), pp. 113–115
  129. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 128; Bury (1912), pp. 254, 474; Treadgold (1988), pp. 278–279; Vasiliev (1935), pp. 115–118
  130. ^ Treadgold (1988), p. 279
  131. ^ Treadgold (1988), p. 279; Vasiliev (1935), pp. 118–121
  132. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 129; Treadgold (1988), pp. 279–280; Vasiliev (1935), pp. 121–122
  133. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 129; Treadgold (1988), pp. 280–281; Vasiliev (1935), pp. 122–123
  134. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 129; Treadgold (1988), p. 281; Vasiliev (1935), pp. 123–124
  135. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 129; Treadgold (1988), pp. 282–283; Vasiliev (1935), pp. 124–126
  136. ^ a b Brooks (1923), p. 130
  137. ^ Bury (1912), p. 273
  138. ^ Bury (1912), pp. 273–274
  139. ^ Brooks (1923), pp. 130–131
  140. ^ Bury (1912), p. 274
  141. ^ Vasiliev (1935), p. 17
  142. ^ a b Brooks (1923), p. 131
  143. ^ Bury (1912), pp. 274–275
  144. ^ Vasiliev (1935), pp. 196–204, 399–404
  145. ^ Vasiliev (1935), p. 204
  146. ^ Treadgold (1997), pp. 447–448
  147. ^ Brooks (1923), pp. 131–132
  148. ^ Toynbee (1973), pp. 378–379
  149. ^ Whittow (1996), p. 310
  150. ^ Treadgold (1997), p. 451
  151. ^ Bury (1912), pp. 276–278
  152. ^ Toynbee (1973), p. 379
  153. ^ a b c Brooks (1923), p. 132
  154. ^ Bury (1912), p. 276 (n. 1)
  155. ^ Brooks (1923), pp. 132-133
  156. ^ Bury (1912), pp. 278–279
  157. ^ a b c Brooks (1923), p. 133
  158. ^ Bury (1912), p. 279
  159. ^ Bury (1912), pp. 279-281
  160. ^ Whittow (1996), p. 311
  161. ^ Cite error: The named reference Treadgold452 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  162. ^ Brooks (1923), p. 134
  163. ^ Cite error: The named reference El-Cheikh162 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  164. ^ Toynbee (1973), pp. 110–111, 113–114
  165. ^ Whittow (1996), pp. 310–311, 314ff.
  166. ^ Vasiliev (1935),p. 21
  167. ^ Vasiliev (1935), pp. 61–88, 127–137, 204–208, 260–264
  168. ^ Vasiliev (1935), pp. 209–212, 127-137, 204-208, 264
  169. ^ Vasiliev (1935), p. 18
  170. ^ Vasiliev (1935), p. 20
  171. ^ Vasiliev (1935), p. 20
  172. ^ Vasiliev (1935), pp. 20-21
  173. ^ Vasiliev (1935), pp. 49–61, 258–260
  174. ^ Kubiak 1970, pp. 49–50.
  175. ^ Canard 1986, pp. 1082–1083.
  176. ^ Kubiak 1970, pp. 51–52, esp. note 3.
  177. ^ Kubiak 1970, p. 51.
  178. ^ Canard 1986, p. 1083.
  179. ^ Makrypoulias 2000, pp. 348–351.
  180. ^ Treadgold (1997), pp. 313, 325
  181. ^ Treadgold (1997), p. 378
  182. ^ Treadgold (1988), pp. 251, 253
  183. ^ a b c d e f g Cite error: The named reference Canard1083 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  184. ^ Treadgold (1988), p. 253
  185. ^ Makrypoulias (2000), p. 349
  186. ^ Miles (1964), p. 11
  187. ^ a b Christides (1981), p. 89
  188. ^ cf. Treadgold (1988), pp. 250–253, 259–260
  189. ^ Cite error: The named reference Makrypoulias_2000.2C_pp._347.E2.80.93348 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  190. ^ Treadgold (1988), pp. 253–254
  191. ^ Makrypoulias (2000), pp. 348, 351
  192. ^ a b Treadgold (1988), p. 254
  193. ^ Makrypoulias (2000), pp. 349–350
  194. ^ Makrypoulias (2000), pp. 347, 357ff.
  195. ^ Makrypoulias (2000), pp. 348–349, 357
  196. ^ Treadgold (1988), pp. 255, 257
  197. ^ Miles (1964), p. 9
  198. ^ a b Christides (1981), p. 92
  199. ^ Treadgold (1988), p. 268
  200. ^ Christides (1981), pp. 92, 93
  201. ^ Treadgold (1988), pp. 324–325
  202. ^ Makrypoulias (2000), p. 351
  203. ^ Treadgold (1997), p. 447
  204. ^ Treadgold (1997), p. 451
  205. ^ Makrypoulias (2000), pp. 351–352
  206. ^ Treadgold (1997), p. 453


[[Category:8th century in Asia]] [[Category:9th century in Asia]] [[Category:8th century in the Byzantine Empire]] [[Category:9th century in the Byzantine Empire]] [[Category:Byzantine–Arab Wars| 2]] [[Category:Byzantine Anatolia]] [[Category:Military history of the Abbasid Caliphate]]