Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Friday, September 20, 2013

Byzantine North Africa under Justinian

The 6th century Byzantine fortress of Kelibia in Tunisia. 

Byzantine North Africa

Editor  -  The Eastern Roman re-conquest of Vandal North Africa for the Empire was one of the great military campaigns of all time.  But military conquest was only the beginning.  The Emperor Justinian had to put down endless rebellions by his own troops and constant wars with the Moors.

In addition to the wars, Justinian spent a huge amount of money on buildings and fortifications from the Libyan border all the way to Morocco.

The great historian Procopius traveled with General Belisarius on his campaign in Africa.  That gave him a unique first hand knowledge of the area when he later wrote his book The Buildings of Justinian.  Below is the portion of his book that deals with Roman western Africa.

By Procopius   
The Buildings of Justinian
Written in the 550s AD

After Tripolis and the Syrtes, let us go on to the rest of Libya.  We must begin from Carthage, which chances to be the largest and the most noteworthy of the cities in this region, prefacing our account with the remark that when Gizericb and the Vandals acquired Libya, a device occurred to them which was both pernicious and worthy of barbarians.

They reasoned that they would be better off if all the towns of the region should be without walls, so that the Romans might not capture any of them and thus be able to harm the Vandals.  So they immediately tore down all the walls to the ground.

Emperor Justinian
All the barbarians, as a general thing, are very keen in planning damage to the Romans, and they are very swift in executing whatever they decide upon.  Only Carthage and a few other places were left by them just as they were, for they declined to concern themselves with these, and left them for time to destroy.

But the Emperor Justinian (although no man approved of his purpose and all actually shuddered at the undertaking, and only God furthered the project and promised help and support) sent Belisarius and an army against Libya; and he broke the power of Gelimer and the Vandals, killing many and making the rest captives, as I have recounted in the Books of the Wars.  He restored all the dismantled strongholds in Libya, every one of them, and he also added a great many new ones himself.

First, then, he cared for Carthage, which now, very properly, is called Justinianê, rebuilding the whole circuit-wall, which had fallen down, and digging around it a moat which it had not had before.  He also dedicated shrines, one to the Mother of God in the palace, and one outside this to a certain local saint, Saint Prima.

Furthermore, he built stoas on either side of what is called the Maritime Forum, and a public bath, a fine sight, which they have named Theodorianae, after the Empress.  He also built a monastery on the shore inside the circuit-wall, close to the harbour which they call Mandracium, and by surrounding it with very strong defences he made it an impregnable fortress.

Ruins of the Roman aqueduct in Carthage, Tunisia

These things, then, were done by Justinian at modern Carthage. In the surrounding region, which is called Proconsularis, there was an unwalled city, Vaga by name, which could be captured not only by a planned attack of the barbarians, but even if they merely chanced to be passing that way.  This place the Emperor Justinian surrounded with very strong defenses and made it worthy to be called a city, and capable of affording safe protection to its inhabitants.  And they, having received this favour, now call the city Theodorias in honour of the Empress.  He also built in this district a fortress which they call Tucca.

In Byzacium there is a city on the coast, Adramytus by name, which has been large and flourishing from ancient times, and for this reason it won the name and rank of metropolis of the region, since it chances to be first in point of size and, in general, of prosperity.

The Vandals had torn the circuit-wall of this city down to the ground, so that the Romans might not be able to use it against them. And it lay conveniently exposed to the Moors when they overran that region.  Nevertheless, the Libyans who lived there tried to make provision, so far as they could, for their own safety, and so they made a barricade out of the ruins of the walls and joined their houses together;  and from these they would fight against their assailants and try to defend themselves, though their hope was slight and their position precarious.  So their safety always hung by a hair and they were kept standing on one leg, being exposed to the attacks of the Moors and to the neglect of the Vandals.

However, when the Emperor Justinian became master of Libya by conquest, he put an exceedingly massive wall about the city and stationed there an adequate garrison of troops, thus giving the inhabitants assurance of safety and enabling them to disdain all enemies.  For this reason they now call the place Justinianê, thus repaying the Emperor for their deliverance and displaying their gratitude simply by the adoption of the name, since they had no other means by which they could requite the Emperor's beneficence, nor did he himself wish other requital.

There was also a certain other town on the coast of Byzacium which the inhabitants used to call Caputvada. At that point the Emperor's fleet landed and there the troops first set foot on the land of Libya, when they made the expedition against Gelimer and the Vandals.  In that place also God revealed that marvellous and indescribable gift to the Emperor which I have described in the Books on the Wars. For although the locality was exceedingly arid, so that the Roman army was very hard pressed by lack of water, the ground, which previously had been completely dry, sent up a spring at the place where the soldiers were building their stockade,  for as they dug, the water began to gush forth.

Ruins of the Byzantine walls of Theveste
This city in Algeria is one of the many sites restored and fortified under Solomon, a general of Emperor Justinian.  Solomon fought in the Vandalic War and the Moorish Wars.

So the earth threw off the drought which prevailed there, and transforming its own character became saturated with drinking-water.  Because of this circumstance they built a satisfactory camp in that place and spent that night there; and on the next day they prepared for battle and, to omit what intervened, took possession of Libya.  So the Emperor Justinian, by way of bearing witness to the gift of God by means of a permanent testimony — for the most difficult task easily yields to his wish — conceived the desire to transform this place forthwith into a city which should be made strong by a wall and distinguished by its other appointments as worthy to be counted an impressive and prosperous city; and the purpose of the Emperor has been realized.

For a wall has been brought to completion and with it a city, and the condition of a farm land is being suddenly changed.  And the rustics have thrown aside the plough and lead the existence of a community, no longer going the round of country tasks but living a city life.  They pass their days in the market-place and hold assemblies to deliberate on questions which concern them; and they traffic with one another, and conduct all the other affairs which pertain to the dignity of a city.

This then was done in Byzacium on the sea. In the interior of this land and to its farther parts, where barbarian Moors live hard by, he built very powerful outposts against them, because of which they are no longer able to overrun the Roman dominion.  He surrounded each one of the cities with very strong walls, since they stand on the rim of the territory; these bear the names Mammes, Teleptê and Cululis. He also constructed a fort which the natives call Aumetra, and in these places he stationed trustworthy garrisons of troops.

In the same way he assured the safety of the land of Numidia by means of fortifications and garrisons of soldiers, each one of which I shall now mention.  There is a mountain in Numidia which is called Aurasius, such as chances to be found nowhere else at all in the civilized world.  For this mountain rises steeply to a towering height and its perimeter extends to a distance of about three days' journey. It offers no path as one approaches it, having no ascent except over cliffs.

Fortress of Ksar Lemsa in Tunisia.
This fine fortress with its strikingly well-preserved walls (except for the SE side) can be seen from afar dominating the valley in the middle of a field of ruins. A gushing stream flows down the mountainside next to it. The citadel probably was built by the patrician Salomon in the reign of Justinian, who established his country-wide system of fortifications in the first half of the 6th c. Built with materials from the monuments of the ancient city.
(fr.wikipedia - Ksar Lemsa)

But after one gets to the top there is deep soil and level plains and easy roads, meadows good for pasture, parks full of trees and plough-land everywhere.  Springs bubble out from the cliffs there, their waters are placid, there are rippling rivers which flow chattering along, and strangest of all, the grain-fields and the trees on this mountain produce crops which are double in size compared with those which are wont to grow in the rest of Libya. Such is the condition of Mt. Aurasius. 

The Vandals held it originally along with the rest of Libya, but the Moors wrested it from them and settled there.  The Emperor Justinian, however, expelled from there the Moors, and Iaudas who ruled over them, and added this mountain to the rest of the Roman Empire.  As a precaution in order that the barbarians might not again make trouble by getting a foothold there, he fortified cities about the mountain which he found deserted and altogether unwalled. I refer to Pentebagae and Florentianae and Badê and Meleum and Tamugadê, as well as two forts, Dabusis and Gaeana; also he established there sufficient garrisons of soldiers, thus leaving to the barbarians there no hope of attacking Aurasius.

Ceuta, Spanish Morocco
Called Septum by the Romans, this fort stood near the Pillars of Hercules.  The
remnants of the city walls are arguably Ceuta’s most interesting historical
monument. The fortifications were originally built by the Byzantines and later
improved on by the Portuguese and Spanish in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

The district beyond Aurasius, which had not been under the Vandals at all, he wrested from the Moors. There he walled two cities, Fricê and Sitifis. At the cities situated in the rest of Numidia, the names of which follow, he set up impregnable defences: Laribuzuduôn, Paraturôn, Cilana, Siccaveneria, Tigisis, Lamfouaomba, Calamaa, Medara, Medela;  besides these, two forts, Scilê and Foscala. So much, then, for this.

There is a city on the island Sardô, which is now named Sardinia, called by the Romans Traiani Forum.  This Justinian has supplied with a wall which it did not have before, but instead it lay exposed to the island Moors, who are called Barbaricini, whenever they wished to plunder it.

And at Gadira, at one side of the Pillars of Heracles, on the right side of the strait, there had been at one time a fortress on the Libyan shore named Septum; this was built by the Romans in early times, but being neglected by the Vandals, it had been destroyed by time.  Our Emperor Justinian made it strong by means of a wall and strengthened its safety by means of a garrison.  There too he consecrated to the Mother of God a noteworthy church, thus dedicating to her the threshold of the Empire, and making this fortress impregnable for the whole race of mankind.
So much for these things. There can be no dispute, but it is abundantly clear to all mankind, that the Emperor Justinian has strengthened the Empire, not with fortresses alone, but also by means of garrisons of soldiers, from the bounds of the East to the very setting of the sun, these being the limits of the Roman dominion.

As many, then, of the buildings of the Emperor Justinian as I have succeeded in discovering, either by seeing them myself, or by hearing about them from those who have seen them, I have described in my account to the best of my ability.  I am fully aware, however, that there are many others which I have omitted to mention, which either went unnoticed because of their multitude, or remained altogether unknown to me.  So if anyone will take the pains to search them all out and add them to my treatise, he will have the credit of having done a needed work and of having won the renown of a lover of fair achievements.

Roman Carthage
After the conquest, a new Roman city of Carthage was built on the same land, and by the 1st century AD it had grown to the second largest city in the western half of the Roman Empire, with a peak population of 500,000.  It was the center of the Roman Province of Africa, which was a major "breadbasket" of the Empire.
See more at Roman Carthage.

Ancient Carthage
Two views of what Carthage harbor could have looked like.
(mahdi-jwini.blogspot - carthage-harbors)

Praetorian Prefecture of Africa
With the capital based at Carthage, the Praetorian Prefecture of Africa (Latin: praefectura praetorio Africae) was a major administrative division of the Eastern Roman Empire.  It was established after the re-conquest of northwestern Africa from the Vandals in 533-534 by Emperor Justinian I. It continued to exist until the late 580s, when it was replaced by the Exarchate of Africa.
Political subdivisions include:
Zeugitana, Byzacena, Numidia, Mauretania Sitifensis, Mauretania Caesariensis, and Mauretania Tingitana.
Also see The Praetorian Prefecture of Africa.

(Forts in Tunisia)            (Procopius - Buildings in Africa)          (Solomon - Byzantine General)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Hospital of Sampson in Constantinople

Constantinople at about 1200 AD
Image from Cartographers Guild.com

The Hospital of Sampson
The largest free clinic in the Empire and served the
people of Constantinople for 600 years.

The Hospital of Sampson is an example of the huge differences between the still standing Eastern Empire and the barbarized West where illiteracy and poverty were the rule.

Sampson the Hospitable (died c. 530) was a citizen of Constantinople who devoted his time to serving the poor of the city. He is venerated as a saint in the Eastern Churches.

Sampson was born in Rome to a prominent family. He was a physician who devoted much of his time to helping the poor and sick. He turned his home into a free clinic, providing his patients with food and lodging as well as medical care. He was later ordained a priest by the patriarch.

Saint Sampson the Hospitable

When the Byzantine emperor Justinian the Great became ill he sent for Sampson to cure him. He was the only physician in the city to do the Emperor any good, and the Emperor wanted to reward him. Sampson requested that the Emperor help him establish a new hospital for the poor.

When Hagia Eirene and Hagia Sophia were destroyed by fire during the Nika Riot in 532, also the Hospital of Sampson burned down, which lay between them, and was subsequently restored by Emperor Justinian.

The Hospital of Sampson formed a complex together with the Hagia Sophia, Hagia Eirene and some other subsidiary building, and it was served by the same clergy.

With the emperor's assistance Sampson founded the hospital, which became the largest free clinic in the empire and served the people of Constantinople for 600 years.

Sampson was buried in the Church of the Holy Martyr Mocius in Constantinople.

It was on his feast day that Peter the Great defeated Charles XII of Sweden in the Battle of Poltava. This led to his veneration in Russia, including the construction of St Sampson's Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

Remains of this large building with a colonnaded courtyard were excavated south of Hagia Eirene after World War II.

The Hospital of Sampson was located between the Hagia Eirene and Hagia Sophia. 
All were destroyed by fire during the Nika Riot in 532. They were subsequently restored by Emperor Justinian.
This image used under FAIR USE from Byzantium1200.
Review for comment, criticism and scholarship as allowed under FAIR USE section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C.
The website Byzantium 1200 published an article on the Hospital of Sampson.  The historians and artists are groping in the dark.  The hospital vanished long ago.  They are using accounts by those who were there and surviving examples of Roman architecture in other parts of the empire.
In this case the recreation of the hospital falls flat.  The artists give us noting of real interest to grab on to and no meaningful historical context.
(Sampson the Hospitable)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Arab Invasion of Sicily and the Fall of Palermo

Muslim Arab archers in Sicily.

While Sicily was never considered the "heart" of the Roman state, the island ended up being an important province of the nation for about 1,000 years.  In just counting the Byzantine period alone, Sicily was ruled by the Eastern Empire for nearly 400 years.  A time far longer than the United States has existed as a nation.

As a historian it is maddening the minimal amount of information available on so many of the Eastern Roman military campaigns.

For example, there have been mountains of ultra detailed books written about the military insignificant Battle of the Little Bighorn.  But with the Muslim conquest of Sicily we have a brutal 75 year war for survival for Byzantium and very little information about events.

This 75 year war would have seen countless sieges, attacks and acts of valor or cowardice.  But those details are long lost to history.  What a shame.

Sicily and the Roman Empire

About 750 BC, the Greeks began to live in Sicily, establishing many important settlements. The most important colony was Syracuse.

While Greek Syracuse controlled much of Sicily, there were a few Carthaginian colonies in the far west of the island. When the two cultures began to clash, the Greek-Punic wars erupted, the longest wars of antiquity. Greece began to make peace with the Roman Republic in 262 BC and the Romans sought to annex Sicily as their republic's first province.

Rome intervened in the First Punic War, crushing Carthage so that by 242 BC Sicily had become the first Roman province outside of the Italian Peninsula.  Sicily served a level of high importance for the Romans as it acted as the empire's granary.

Sicily remained a Roman provinve until the Ostrogothic conquest of Italy under Theodoric the Great began in 488.

In the 6th century, the Gothic War took place between the Ostrogoths and the Eastern Roman Empire. Sicily was the first part of Italy to be taken under general Belisarius who was commissioned by Eastern Emperor Justinian I, this campaign being part of an ambitious project of restoring the whole Roman Empire, uniting the Eastern and the Western halves.

Sicily was used as a base for the Byzantines to conquer the rest of Italy, with Naples, Rome, Milan and the Ostrogoth capital Ravenna falling within five years. However, a new Ostrogoth king Totila, drove down the Italian peninsula, plundering and conquering Sicily in 550. Totila, in turn, was defeated and killed in the Battle of Taginae by the Byzantine general Narses in 552.

In 535, Emperor Justinian I made Sicily a Byzantine province, and for the second time in Sicilian history, the Greek language became a familiar sound across the island.

The Eastern Empire was pressed from all sides.
Enemies of Rome attacked from everywhere.  The Lombards attacked
Italy, the Arabs raided Sicily and southern Italy, Slavs poured over
the Danube overrunning Latin and Greek speaking provinces in
the Balkans and Arab armies marched into Anatolia.  To say the
Eastern Roman armies had their hands full is a huge understatement.

Theme of Sicily
 Theme of the Byzantine Empire
ca. 687 to 902 AD
Sicily was a Byzantine military-civilian province (thema, theme) existing from the late 7th to the 10th century, encompassing the island of Sicily and the region of Calabria in the Italian mainland. Following the Muslim conquest of Sicily, from 902 the theme was limited to Calabria, but retained its original name until the middle of the 10th century.
Ever since its reconquest from the Ostrogoths by Belisarius in 535–536, Sicily had formed a distinct province under a praetor, while the army was placed under a dux. A strategos (military governor) is attested on the island in Arab sources between 687 and 695, and it is at that time that the island was probably made into a theme.
The theme was based in Syracuse, traditionally the chief city of Sicily. It comprised not only the island, which was divided into districts called tourmai, but also the mainland duchy of Calabria which extended roughly up to the river Crati.
 In addition, the strategos of Sicily exercised some authority—varying according to the prevailing local political faction—over the autonomous duchies of Naples, Gaeta and Amalfi.
The Muslim conquest of the island began in 826. Following the fall of Syracuse in 878 and the conquest of Taormina in 902, the strategos moved to Rhegion, the capital of Calabria. During the first half of the 10th century, the Byzantines launched a number of failed expeditions to regain the island and maintained a few isolated strongholds near Messina until 965, when Rametta, the last Byzantine outpost, fell. The post of "strategos of Sicily" was thus retained as the official title until the mid-10th century, when the "strategos of Calabria" begins to appear in the lists.
The themes or themata were the main administrative divisions of the middle Byzantine Empire. They were established in the mid-7th century in the aftermath of the Muslim conquests of Byzantine territory and replaced the earlier provincial system established by emperors Diocletian and Constantine the Great.

In their origin, the first themes were created from the areas of encampment of the field armies of the East Roman Army, and their names corresponded to the military units they had resulted from. The theme system reached its apogee in the 9th and 10th centuries, as older themes were split up and the conquest of territory resulted in the creation of new ones. The original theme system underwent significant changes in the 11th and 12th centuries, but the term remained in use as a provincial and financial circumscription, until the very end of the Empire.

The following table illustrates the thematic structure as found in the Thracesian Theme, c. 902-936:

Structure of the Thema Thrakēsiōn
NameNumber of personnelNumber of subordinate unitsOfficer in command
Thema9,6004 TourmaiStrategos
Tourma2,4006 DroungoiTourmarches
Droungos4002 BandaDroungarios
Bandon2002 KentarchiaiCount
Kentarchia10010 KontouberniaKentarches/Hekatontarches
505 KontouberniaPentekontarches
Kontoubernion101 "Vanguard" + 1 "Rear Guard"Dekarchos
"Rear Guard"4n/aTetrarches


First Arab invasions of Sicily

Sicily was first invaded by the Arab forces of Caliph Uthman in 652. The Arabs failed to make any permanent gains, and returned to Syria after gathering some booty.

By the end of the 7th century, with the Umayyad conquest of North Africa, they had captured the nearby port city of Carthage, allowing the Arabs to build shipyards and a permanent base from which to make more sustained attacks.

Around 700, the island of Pantelleria was captured by Arabs, and it was only discord among the Arabs that prevented an attempted invasion of Sicily coming next. Instead, trading agreements were arranged with the Byzantines, and Arab merchants were allowed to trade goods at the Sicilian ports.

Attacks from Muslim fleets repeated in 703, 728, 729, 730, 731, 733 and 734, the last two times meeting with a substantial Byzantine resistance.

The first true conquest expedition was launched in 740: in that year the Muslim prince Habib, who had participated on the 728 attack, successfully captured Syracuse. Ready to conquer the whole island, they were however forced to return to Tunisia by a Berber revolt. A second attack in 752 aimed only to sack the same city.
A 6th century Eastern Roman reenactor.

Muslim landing and siege of Syracuse, 827–828

On 14 June 827, the allied fleets sailed from the Bay of Sousse, and after three days they reached Mazara in southwestern Sicily, where they landed. There they were met with soldiers loyal to Euphemius, but the alliance soon began to show rifts: a Muslim detachment mistook some of Euphemius' partisans for loyalist troops, and a skirmish ensued.

Although Euphemius' troops were ordered to place a twig on their helmets as a distinctive mark, Asad announced his intention to wage the campaign without them.

Soon after that, Balata, who seems to have taken over the functions, if not the title, of the imperial strategos on the island, appeared nearby with a Byzantine force. The two armies clashed on a plain south-east of Mazara, where Asad's men, after exhortations by their leader, gained a victory.

Balata retreated first to Enna and from there to Calabria on the Italian mainland, where he may have hoped to gather more troops. Instead, he died there shortly after his arrival.

Asad then left Mazara under Abu Zaki al-Kinani, and turned to Syracuse: the Muslim army advanced along the southern shore towards the island's capital, but at Qalat al-Qurrat (possibly ancient Acrae), it was met by an embassy from the city which offered tribute if the Muslims halted their advance. The proposal was probably designed to buy time for the city to better prepare itself for a siege, but Asad, either persuaded by the emissaries' assurances or needing to rest his army, halted his advance for a few days.

At the same time, Euphemius began to regret his alliance with the Aghlabids, and opened secret contacts with the imperials, urging them to resist the Arabs. The Muslims recommenced their advance soon after, and laid siege to the city.

Byzantium, which at the same time was forced to face a threat much closer to home at Crete, was unable to send much aid to the beleaguered island, while the Muslims received reinforcements from Africa. Giustiniano Participazio, the dux of the imperial protectorate of Venice, came to the city's aid, but was not able to raise the siege.

The besiegers however suffered from lack of supplies as well as the outbreak of a disease in spring 828, which cost Asad his life. He was replaced by Muhammad ibn Abu'l-Jawari. When a Byzantine fleet arrived, the Arabs raised the siege and tried to sail back to Africa, but were hindered by the Byzantine ships. Thwarted, the Muslim army burned its ships and retreated over land to the castle of Mineo, which surrendered to them after three days.

View of Enna (Castrogiovanni)

First siege of Enna and the Byzantine counterattack, 828–829

Despite his contacts with the imperials, Euphemius was now willing to serve as their guide, evidently hoping that the Muslims, humbled by their failure and without the strong will of Asad to guide them, could now be made to serve his purposes. After Mineo surrendered, the Muslim army divided in two: one part took Agrigento in the west, while the other, along with Euphemius, attacked Enna.

The garrison of Enna began negotiations, offering to acknowledge Euphemius' authority, but when Euphemius with a small escort met with their emissaries, he was murdered. It is unknown what happened to Euphemius' supporters after his death, whether they dispersed or continued fighting alongside the Muslims.

In spring 829, Michael II sent a new fleet to Sicily under Theodotus, who was well acquainted with the island, having already served as its strategos in the past. After landing, Theodotus marched his army to Enna, where the Arabs were continuing the siege. He was defeated in the subsequent battle, but was able to find refuge in the fortress with most of his men.

The Muslims now became so confident of victory that they struck their first coins on the island, in the name of Ziyadat Allah and Muhammad ibn Abu'l-Jawari, who however died a short while after and was replaced by Zubayr ibn Gawth.

Shortly after that, Theodotus managed to reverse the situation: he led a sally that routed a Muslim raiding party and then defeated the main Muslim army on the next day, killing 1,000 men and pursuing the rest up to the Muslims' fortified encampment, which he placed under siege. The Muslims tried to break out in a night sortie, but Theodotus was expecting such a move and routed them in an ambush.

The remains of the Muslim army once again sought refuge in Mineo, where Theodotus blockaded them and soon reduced them to the point of eating their horses and even dogs. When they heard of this reversal, the Arab garrison of Agrigento abandoned the city and retreated to Mazara. Thus, by the autumn of 829, Sicily had almost been cleared of the Muslim invaders.

Coin of Emperor Theophilos
Palermo was lost while Theophilos was Emperor.  The Follis coin (above) was a new type, minted in large quantities in celebration of Theophilos' victories against the Arabs from ca. 835 on. On the obverse he is represented in triumphal attire, wearing the toupha, and on the reverse the traditional acclamation "Theophilos Augustus, you conquer".

Muslim recovery and the fall of Palermo, 830–831

The Emperor Theophilos was not able to send reinforcements to Sicily.  He was obliged to wage wars against the Arabs on two fronts at once - in Sicily and Anatolia.  The Arab invasion of Anatolia by the Abbasid Caliph Al-Ma'mun in took place in 830. The Byzantines were defeated and lost several fortresses. In 831 Emperor Theophilos retaliated by leading a large army into Cilicia and capturing Tarsus. The Emperor returned to Constantinople in triumph.

Meanwhile in Sicily, Theodotus' success was not to be completed, however: in early summer 830, a fleet from Muslim Spain (al-Andalus), under Asbagh ibn Wakil, arrived in Sicily.

Theodotus did not confront them, hoping that they would depart after raiding, but the beleaguered garrison at Mineo managed to get into contact with the raiders and proposed joint action.

The Andalusians agreed, provided that Asbagh was recognized as the overall commander, and together with fresh troops from Ifriqiya marched on Mineo.

Eastern Roman Infantry

Unable to confront them, Theodotus retreated to Enna and the siege of Mineo was broken (July or August 830). The combined Ifriqiyan and Andalusian army then torched Mineo and laid siege to another town, possibly Calloniana (modern Barrafranca). However, once again a plague broke out in their camp, killing Asbagh and many others. The town fell later in autumn, but the Arabs' numbers were so depleted that they had to abandon it and retreat west.

Theodotus launched a pursuit and inflicted heavy casualties, so that most of the Andalusians departed the island. However, Theodotus too was killed at this time, possibly in one of these skirmishes.

Meanwhile, the Ifriqiyans of Mazara, together with some of the Andalusians, had advanced across the island and laid siege to Palermo.

The city held out for a year until September 831, when its commander, the spatharios Symeon, surrendered it in exchange for safe departure for the city's senior officials and possibly the garrison as well.

The city suffered greatly during the siege; the Arab historian Ibn al-Athir, records with exaggeration that the city's population fell from 70,000 to 3,000, who were taken as slaves. The city's bishop, Luke, managed to escape and reach Constantinople, where he informed Emperor Theophilos of the disaster.

The fall of Palermo marks a decisive step in the Muslim conquest of Sicily: the Muslims gained not only an important military base, but possession of the city—henceforth known simply as al-Madina ("the City")—allowed them to consolidate their control over the western portion of the island, which was established as a regular Aghlabid province.

Thus, in March 832, the first Aghlabid governor (wali), Abu Fihr Muhammad ibn Abdallah, arrived in Palermo. Abu Fihr was a capable man, and was able to assuage the often violent dissensions between Ifriqiyans and Andalusians.


The western third of Sicily fell relatively quickly into Muslim hands, but conquest of the eastern portion of the island was a protracted and hard fought affair that went on for another 71 years.

Palermo today.

Emirate of Sicily
Map of Italy on the eve of the arrival of the Normans and after the Byzantines were fully driven out of Sicily.  The Arabs of Sicily and north Africa continued their attacks on Byzantine Italy and Greece for decades.
The Emirate of Sicily was an Islamic state on the island of Sicily, which existed from 831 to 1072. Its capital was Palermo.
Muslims, who first invaded in 652 AD, seized control of the entire island from the Byzantine Empire in a prolonged series of conflicts from 827 to 902.

(wraithdt.deviantart.com)        (Sicily History)        (saudiaramcoworld.com)

(Islam in southern Italy)        (Islam in Italy)        (Theme of Sicily)

(Conquest of Sicily)        (Emirate of Sicily)