« PrethodnaNastavi »
were unequal to his task, and at his request Damianos, Count of the Stable, was sent with reinforcements. The Saracens routed the Greek army, Damianos was wounded, and Photeinos escaped to the little island of Dios which faces Candia. A second expedition was sent soon afterwards, under Krateros, in command of a fleet of seventy ships. A battle was fought where the troops landed, and the Greeks were victorious, but instead of following up their success they celebrated it by a night of carousal, and in their sleep they were attacked and almost annihilated by the enemy. Krateros escaped and was pursued by the Arabs to Cos, where they caught him and hanged him on a cross.
It was not only for the recovery of Crete, but also for the protection of the islands of the Aegean that the Imperial government was concerned. A third armament which Michael despatched under the command of Ooryphas cleared the enemy out of a number of small islands which they had occupied, but it is not recorded that he renewed the attempt to recover Crete. The Arabs did not confine their attacks to the islands in the immediate vicinity of Crete; they extended far and wide, on both sides of the Aegean, depredations of which only stray notices have been preserved by chance. We know that Aegina was cruelly and repeatedly devastated; 2 we know that, some two generations later, Paros was a waste country, which attracted only the hunter of the wildgoat. Just after the death of the Emperor Michael, an expedition from Crete pillaged the coasts of Caria and Ionia, and despoiled the monastery of Mt. Latros.1
Constantine Kontomytes, the
Ooryphas, because it is recorded in
2 Vit. Theodorae Thess. 2, cp. 26. Vit. Lucae Jun. (Migne, 111, 441), τὰς συνεχεῖς ἐφόδους τῶν ἐκ τῆς ̓Αγαρ.
3 Nicetas, Vit. Theoctistae Lesb. 8-9. I owe the reference to Vasil'ev.
4 On the monasteries of Latros cp. Delehaye, Analecta Bollandiana, xi. 14 sqq. (1892).
stratêgos of the Thrakesian Theme, surrounded the depredators with a superior force and cut them to pieces. But about the same time a Roman fleet was completely destroyed in a battle at Thasos,1 and the Cretans for some years seem to have worked their will unhindered in the Aegean Sea.2 Their attacks on Mt. Athos compelled the monks to abandon their cells.3
If the story is true that the original fleet of the Cretan Arabs was burnt, it is clear that they had, however, speedily furnished themselves with a considerable naval establishment.4 At the same time, Sicily was in great danger. The Moslems of Spain had hardly conquered Crete before the Moslems of Africa descended upon the western island and set themselves to accomplish a conquest which would give them a unique position for winning the maritime lordship of the Mediterranean. To rescue Sicily, to recover Crete, and to defend the islands and coast which were exposed to the depredations of a piratical enemy to the very precincts of the capital itself, a far stronger naval equipment was necessary than that which the Empire possessed. The navy which had saved Asia Minor and the Aegean under the successors of Heraclius from the Saracens in the first tide of their conquests, had been allowed to decline, and the Amorian Emperors reaped the fruits of this neglect. The naval question suddenly became the most pressing interest of Imperial policy; and, as we have seen, the revival of the navy was begun by the efforts of the Amorian dynasty. No further attempt, however, to recover Crete seems to have been made in the reign of Theophilus, who may have thought, perhaps justly, that it would be better to employ all his available strength upon curbing the advance of the Arabs in the island of Sicily. But after his death, Theoktistos organized a great Cretan expedition which sailed in March (A.D. 843) under his own command.5 It seems to have been far more powerful than those which had been despatched by Michael II., and when it appeared the Saracens were in consternation. But they found a means of playing upon the
1 Cont. Th. 137, October 829.
2 Ib.; cp. Vit. Theodorae Imp. 9. 3 Vasil'ev, 77.
Probably many of the ships of Photeinos and Krateros fell into their hands.
5 Simeon (Cont. Georg., 814), who is the source, states that Theodora sent the expedition on the Sunday after the Proclamation of Orthodoxy, i.e, on March 18, 843.
general's fears for his own influence at the court of Theodora. They bribed some of his officers to spread the rumour, or to insinuate to Theoktistos, that the Empress had raised one of his rivals to be the colleague of herself and her son. The general, deeply alarmed, hastened to Constantinople, leaving his army to do nothing, if not to meet with disaster.1
Abu Hafs and his successors were virtually independent, but they may have found it expedient to acknowledge the overlordship of the Caliph, and to consider Crete as in some sense affiliated to the province of Egypt. In any case they continued to maintain relations with Egypt and to receive supplies from Alexandria. It was probably in view of this connexion that the government of Theodora decided on an expedition beyond the usual range of the warfare of this period.2 Three fleets, numbering in all nearly three hundred ships, were equipped. The destination of two of these armaments is unknown; perhaps they were to operate in the Aegean or off the coast of Syria. But the third, consisting of eightyfive vessels and carrying 5000 men, under an admiral whose true name is concealed under "Ibn Katuna," the corruption of an Arabic chronicler, sailed to the coast of Egypt and appeared before Damietta (May 22, 853).
In the ninth century Damietta was closer to the sea than the later town which the Sultan Bibars founded in the thirteenth. The city lies on the eastern channel of the Nile about seven miles from the mouth; and less than a mile to the east is Lake Menzale, which a narrow belt of sand severs from the sea. When the Greek fleet arrived, the garrison was absent at Fustat, attending a feast to which it had been summoned by the governor Anbas, the last ruler. of Arabic descent. The inhabitants hastily deserted the undefended
1 καταλιπεῖν τὸν στρατὸν μαχαίρας ἔργον, loc. cit. If it had been actually destroyed, probably more would have been said.
2 The sources are Tabari (51-52) and Yakubi (10). It is significant for the character of the Greek chronicles that they utterly ignore the episode of Damietta. Tabari says that there were 300 ships, 100 under each commander. But Yakubi, who only mentions the fleet which attacked Damietta, says that it consisted of
85 ships. The two accounts are independent. We may take it that 300 is a round number.
3 Vasil'ev guesses they went to Sicily (173); but the natural inference from Tabari is that they operated in the east. One of them was commanded by Ooryphas, the other by M-r-d (Tabari, 51). For Oory phas cp. above, Chap. IV. p.
Cp. Vasil'ev, 171.
city, which the Greeks plundered and burned. They captured six hundred Arab and Coptic women,1 and discovered a store of arms which was destined for the ruler of Crete.2 The spoiling of Damietta detained them only two days, and they sailed eastward to the island of Tinnis; but fearing sandbanks, they did not pass farther, and proceeded to the fortress of Ushtum, a strongly walled place with iron gates. Burning the war-engines which he found there, “Ibn Katuna" returned home from an expedition which fortune had singularly favoured.3
If the conquests of Crete and Sicily taught the Romans the necessity of a strong navy, the burning of Damietta was a lesson which was not lost upon the Saracens of Egypt. An Arabic writer observes that "from this time they began to show serious concern for the fleet, and this became an affair of the first importance in Egypt. Warships were built, and the pay of marines was equalized with that of soldiers who served on land. Only intelligent and experienced men were admitted to the service." Thus, as has been remarked, the Greek descent on Damietta led to the establishment of the Egyptian navy, which, a century later, was so powerful under the dynasty of the Fatimids.
In the later years of Michael III. the Cretan Arabs pursued their quests of plunder and destruction in the Aegean. We learn that Lesbos was laid waste, and that monks were carried away from their cells in the hills of Athos.6 The last military effort of Michael and Bardas was
2 Abu Hafs (Tabari). Doubts have been felt if he was still alive. Genesios gives the succession of Cretan rulers (47-48) as: Abu Hafs; Saipes, his son; Babdel, son of S.; Zerkunes, brother of B.; the successor of Zerkunes was Emir in the time of Genesios. also implies that Babdel was contemporary of Leo VI., and we know otherwise (Cont. Th. 299) that Saip was Emir in the reign of Michael. This evidence seems favourable to Tabari's statement that Abu Hafs was alive in 853. For the Arabic forms of the names (Shuaib, Abu Abdallah, Shirkuh) see Hopf, Gr. Gesch. 123; Hirsch, 136, n. 2.
to organize a great Cretan expedition, which was to sail from the shores of the Thrakesian Theme, a central gathering-place for the various provincial fleets, and for those regiments of the Asiatic themes which were to take part in the campaign. We saw how this enterprise was frustrated by the enemies of the Caesar. Another generation was to pass before the attempt to recover Crete and secure tranquillity for the Aegean was renewed.
§ 2. The Invasion of Sicily
In the two great westward expansions of the Semite, in the two struggles between European and Semitic powers for the waters, islands, and coasts of the Mediterranean, Sicily played a conspicuous part, which was determined by her geographical position. The ancient history of the island, when Greeks and Phoenicians contended for the mastery, seems to be repeated1 when, after a long age of peace under the mighty rule of Rome, it was the scene of a new armed debate between Greeks and Arabs. In both cases, the Asiatic strangers were ultimately driven out, not by their Greek rivals, but by another people descending from Italy. The Normans were to expel the Saracens, as the Romans had expelled the Phoenicians. The great difference was that the worshippers of Baal and Moloch had never won the whole island, while the sway of the servants of Allah was to be complete, extending from Panormos to Syracuse, from Messina to Lilybaeum.
A fruitful land and a desirable possession in itself, Sicily's central position between the two basins of the Mediterranean rendered it an object of supreme importance to any Eastern sea-power which was commercially or politically aggressive; while for an ambitious ruler in Africa it was the steppingstone to Italy and the gates of the Hadriatic. As soon as the Saracens created a navy in the ports of Syria and Egypt, it was inevitable that Sicily should be exposed to their attacks, and the date of their first descent is only twenty years after the death of Mohammad.2 But no serious attempt to win a
1 This was pointed out by Grote, and the motif was developed by Freeman in his characteristic manner. 2 A.D. 652.