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AD 815-976
An encyclopaedic chronology,
with several long digressions
on the ‘East Roman’ army and navy
Michael O’Rourke

Canberra, Australia
September 2010

List of Roman (Byzantine) Emperors

813-20: Leon or Leo V ‘the Armenian’

820-29: Mikhael or Michael II ‘the Amorian’
829-42: Theophilos
842-56: Theodora, regent for Michael III
842-67: Mikhael or Michael III
867-86: Basileios or Basil I ‘the Macedonian’
886-912: Leon or Leo VI ‘the Wise’
912-13: Alexandros or Alexander
913-14: Nikolaos or Nicholas Mysticus (patriarch), regent for Constantine
914-20: Zoë Carbonopsina, empress-regent for Constantine VII
920-44: Romanos II Lecepenus, senior co-emperor
944-59: Konstantinos or Constantine VII ‘the Porphyrogenitus’, ruling alone
959-63: Romanos III
963: Theophano, empress-regent for Basil II
963-69: Nikephoros II Phocas, senior co-emperor
969-76: Ioannes or John I Kourkouas, called ‘Tzimiskes’, senior co-emperor
976+: Basileios or Basil II ‘the Bulgar-Slayer’, ruling alone

For an account of the size, equipment and tactics of the Byzantine Army, see
after the entry for AD 919 and again after 944. The Navy is
discussed at length after 841-50 and briefly in or after the entries
for 882, 889, 911 (maritime expedition against Crete), 919, and AD
961 (further expedition against Crete).


In 815 the whole African side of the Mediterranean was Muslim, while the northern
side belonged to Christendom.
Taking the former first, we find the Umayyad dynasty ruling most of present-
day Spain and all of our Portugal, with the Mahgreb divided between the Idrisids
in Morocco-Algeria and the Aghlabids ruling Greater Tunisia (Arabic “Ifriqiya”). The
giant Abbasid Caliphate with its capital at Baghdad ruled the whole Levant from
eastern Libya to Egypt, Syria, Armenia, Iraq and Persia.
The larger part of the northern shore of the Mediterranean was controlled by
“Rômania”—‘the Christian Roman Empire of the Greeks’ —known to us as

Byzantium. On the west, the Frankish Empire ruled our southern France, part of
the Balearics, Corsica, and northern Italy as far as Old Rome. Eastwards from
Sicily and southern Italy, as we have said, all the northern Meditterranean was
Byzantine – as far as Cyprus.
On paper the Frankish Empire—Pamplona to Salzburg and Hamburg to Rome*
—looked to be the second strongest power in the Mediterranean basin after the
Abbasids in 815 (cf Times Atlas 1994: 61). In practice it was less organised and
more loosely governed and so weaker than Byzantium. The Franks had a small
fleet that allowed them to hold the Balearics and Corsica, but in the western
reaches of Mediterranean as in the eastern [see e.g. under 825-28 and 880], the
main naval contest was between Byzantium and the several Muslim states. Venice
too had a substantial fleet of its own (see under 840 and 887).

(*) Except for Rome, with perhaps 20,000 people, in 815 these places were
just the village seats of bishops or hamlet-fortresses of no importance; I
am simply using them to quickly illustrate physical size of the Frankish-
ruled realms.

Let us now proceed on a tour across the Roman (Byzantine) Empire, from west to
east – from Sardinia and Sicily to Asia Minor and Armenia:

(a) Italy: Sardinia was still nominally Byzantine but in practice independent (cf the
entry in this chronology for c.840; also 864). The Franks dominated Corsica and N
Italy, with the Lombard principality of Benevento lodged between Frankish N Italy
and Byzantine S Italy, including Sicily: see 827.

(b) The Adriatic and the Balkans: Nominally Byzantine Venice and Dalmatia were
separated from Byzantine inner Macedonia by Frankish-dominated Slovenia-
Croatia (to give the region its modern name) and the Slavic tribes of ‘Bosnia-
Serbia’ - as we may anachronistically call the region. There was as yet no Serbian
state in 814. Nominally the pagan Serbs came under Byzantine suzerainty but in
practice they were autonomous. Outer Macedonia and SE Illyria were likewise
ruled by Slavic chiefs (and in certain districts: Romance-speaking Vlachs).
The Empire ruled Crete, almost all of present-day Greece, Albania, and Thrace,
while the Bulgarians (still pagans) controlled the eastern two-thirds of present-day
Bulgaria and an even larger territory north of the lower Danube. Until 814-16 (see
under 816), the Bulgarian-Byzantine frontier lay just beyond Adrianople (modern

GO HERE for a map showing the Bulgarian-Byzantine frontier:

(c) Anatolia remained the empire’s heartland. In the east, the frontier with the
Abbasids was the Taurus Mountains, with nearly all of Cilicia under Muslim rule.
Cyprus paid taxes to both the Empire and the Caliphate.

Byzantine-Venetian edict against trade with the Arabs. The emperor and the doge
tried to prohibit Venetian merchants from engaging in trade (in slaves and other
goods) with the Arabs, in order that the empire should maintain control over the
north-south commercial routes (Rotman p.72). See 876.

r. Omurtag, Bulgarian khan. With the death of Krum, the boundary between the
Bulgarian khanate and the empire once again became the Balkans Mountains,
which is to say: Byzantium regained all of Thrace. A 30-year treaty (816-46) was
agreed, and from 817 it mainly held, being breached only once: see 836-37 (Vine
1991: 100, 106). Cf 815.

814/15: In the Caliphate: The first substantial reference to the use of


Turkish so-called "slave" soldiers, mercenaries from east of the Aral Sea.
They formed a small but effective guard for Ma'mun's brother, the future
caliph Mu'tasim. Cf 833. – And the Patzinak Turks [Pechenegs, Kipchaks]
pushed west onto the Ukrainian steppe (as we know it) during the 800s.

From 814/15:
Iconoclasm again. SL [date according to Symeon the Logothete]: Leo V
persecutes the iconophiles 815-820.
The veneration of icons had been restored under Empress Irene, 780-802. This
was formalised at a Church Council held in 787.
But now in 815 Leo calls a Council/General Synod at Constantinople which
reintroduces "moderate iconoclasm".

Publication of the ‘Second Edict of Iconoclasm’. Leo deposed the patriarch

Nicephorus, inaugurating the SECOND ICONOCLASTIC PERIOD (815-843). Cf 818-
Soon after Easter, 1 April 815, a Synod under the authority of the new Patriarch
Theodotus Melissenus was held. It repudiated the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea of
787 and recognised the acta of the iconoclast council of 754. It stated that it did
not regard the icons as idols, but nevertheless ordered their destruction.
“For you see that all the emperors who have acknowledged and worshipped
icons met their death either in exile or in war …” (Leo V, quoted by Mango in Rice
1965: 110).

Outer Thrace: The Bulgarians first conquered Philippopolis, present-day Plovdiv, in
815 and named it Philibé. (Wikipedia, 2009: - The name Plovdiv first appears in
the 15th century.) See 816.

Chronicles: It has long been the consensus of Byzantinists that no reliable
narrative source exists for the second period of iconoclasm (815-843). The history
of this period has therefore been written by choosing among the different
accounts of four chroniclers of the mid-tenth century, none of whom is considered
wholly reliable: [1] Symeon the Logothete [SL], [2] Joseph Genesius, [3]
Theophanes Continuatus, and [4] the Pseudo-Symeon. But Treadgold (1979) has
proposed that the Chronicle of Symeon has practically the value of a
contemporary source for 813-845, and should be adopted as our principal guide in
writing the history of the second iconoclastic period.

Part of Dalmatia was ruled by the new Croat kingdom. See 822.

1. Exchange of prisoners between the Eastern Muslims and the East Roman
Empire; Mas’udi does not specify the numbers involved (Toynbee 1973: 390).

2. Campaign against the Bulgarians under Khan Omurtag. Leo leads his army to
the destroyed town of Mesembria on the Black Sea coast: he lures the Khan's
army into an ambush and wins a victory.
As we noted earlier, a 30-year peace was agreed. The Bulgarians kept most of
the western Thracian conquests of Irene and Nicephorus but withdrew from some
of northern Thrace. The Romanic-Bulgarian Treaty marks off a border-line that
came to be called the "Great Fence of Bulgaria" or “Great Fence of Thrace”
(Greek: megale souda, ‘Great Fence/Stronghold/Rampart’; today known as the
Erkesiya, a word borrowed from Turkish). A no-man’s-land about 60 km wide was
marked out from Develtus west to Mt Haemus {the Balkan Range near Satra

Zagora] and thence south to Macrolivada (Uzundzhova) (*), in which the

Bulgarians built (815-16) a ditch and rampart (Bury 1912; Runciman, History of
the First Bulgarian Empire, appendix VI; also Vlasto 1970: 157). J B Bury, 1912:
361, commented that much of it was still able to be traced in his time.
The Bulgarians fortified the ‘fence’ with an earthen rampart (probably with
timber palisades) and a ditch, the latter on the Byzantine side; and the Byzantines
(Gk: Rhomaioi) heavily refortified Adrianople and Mesembria; but Serdica [modern
Sofia] and Philippopolis [Plovdiv], further out and surrounded by Slav-dominated
territory, were left undefended. This invited Bulgarian expansion to the west: see
827, 831 and 836 (fall of Serdica).

(*) Develtus was on the coast near Burgas. Macrolivada was near
Simeonovgrad, where the western Azmak enters the Maritsa, NE of modern
Haskovo, i.e. well downstream (SE) from Plovdiv-Philippopolis. (There is
also a different stream called the eastern Azmak, a tributary of the
Tundzha.) Thus the Fence ran to the ENE across the northern Thracian

3. Pope Stephen IV travelled to Rheims in Francia to anoint and crown

Charlemagne's son Hludwig / Louis / Ludovic ‘the Pious’. Stephen took with him
what was purported to be the crown of Constantine the Great. See next.

By 817:
The West: The Carolingian court had the resources to construct a wind organ
without recourse to Byzantine aid. Angold 2001: 118 sees this as evidence of the
Franks having achieved cultural parity with the East. In our opinion, this parity is
better dated to around 1100.

The deposed patriarch of Constantinople, Nicephorus, wrote Apologeticus major, a
defence of the veneration of icons.
His persuasiveness may have been a factor in Michael II’s relative toleration of
the iconodules. Nicephorus is well known for his Breviarium Nicephori, a history of
the Roman (Byzantine) Empire from 602-769, and for his chronological tables,
listing the major religious and political leaders from Adam to 829.

2. Saracens attack Romanic/Byzantine south Italy (or in 819). Cf 845 (Rome).

3. Byzantine iconophiles appeal to the Pope. Cf 818-20 (Theodotus).

250 years since the Lombards arrived in Italy. Hence hereafter we shall use the
form "Italians (Lombards)” rather than just 'Lombards'.

c. 818:
d. the chronicler, abbot Theophanes ‘the Confessor’ or ‘of Megas Agros’, that
being his birthplace in NW Asia Minor.
His chronicle is the major source for the reigns of Leo and Constantine V.
Iconodule monk; exiled by Leo V to the Aegean island of Samothrace, where he
wrote his Chronograph, our principal source for the Byzantine Dark Age of the 7th
and 8th centuries. Following George Syncellus's death (814), his Chronicle was
extended by ‘Theophanes the Confessor’ to his own time (813); and subsequent
contributors carried it down to the year 961.
Theophanes' Chronographia covers the period 284-813, English trans., The
Chronicle of Theophanes: An English Translation of anni mundi 6095-6305 (A.D.
602-813), by Harry Turtledove, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,
1982. And a translation by Mango & Scott: The chronicle of Theophanes
Confessor: Byzantine and Near Eastern history, AD 284-813. Clarendon Press,
Oxford and New York, 1997.


Asia: First recorded raid on the empire by the Viking Rus’ of Kiev. They plundered
the northern coast of Anatolia (818). —Treadgold 1997: 433.

The expedition of the Rus’ to Paphlagonia is documented in the Life of St. George
of Amastris, attributed to Ignatios the Deacon (ca. 775 - ca. 848). The Life
describes the Rus as "the people known to everyone for their barbarity, ferocity,
and cruelty". According to the text, they attacked Propontis (i.e. the Bosphoros:
probably aiming for Constantinople) before turning east and raiding Paphlagonia
some time after the death of St. George (ca. 806). When they fell upon the town
of Amastris, the intercession of St. George helped the inhabitants to survive the
The Basileus (emperor) Leo subsequently created two new military commands
on the Black Sea coast, both with naval squadrons as well as land troops: the
Theme [thema, province] of Paphlagonia on the north Anatolian coast: capital
inland at Gangra. and the Ducate of Chaldia in north-east Anatolia: capital at
Toynbee 1973: 325, citing Ahrweiler’s Byzance at la mer, notes that besides
the three naval themata proper (Cibyrrhaeots, Samos and the Aegean Sea), there
were naval squadrons posted to a number of non-naval themes: Sicily, Calabria,
Peloponnese, Hellas, and, in the Black Sea, Paphlagonia.

819: The Samanids carved out a semi-independent state in eastern Persia

to become the first native Iranian rulers after the Arabic conquest.
Despite having roots in Zoroastrianism theocratic nobility, they embraced
Islam and propagated the religion deep into the heart of Central Asia. They
made Samarqand, Bukhara and Herat their capitals and revived the
Persian language and culture.

The Ifriqiya-imperial truce is broken. When the Aghlabids renew the offensive
against Byzantine Sicily with increased intensity in 819-820 (Bury CMH IV, i), the
Maltese Islands presumably came under increased pressure. It comes as a
surprise that they were not lost at about this time. It was presumably due to the
tenacity of the Byzantine defence that Malta, at least, held out for another half

Archaeology of Malta

Interestingly, the importation of amphorae and possibly also cooking pots to Malta
- from nearby Byzantine Sicily - continues right into the 8th and 9th /early 10th
The imports were probably paid for in various services – presumably for repairs
and supply to passing ships, provision of market services etc - and/or the sale of
items with low archaeological visibility such as slaves or textiles. At the main town
of Melita - old M’dina - occupation actually increases over the 7th and 8th
Centuries. This is consistent with the extra-urban funerary archaeology which
includes evidence of occupation in the form of 8th century Sicilian oil lamps found
within the earlier mid-Antique catacombs. Remarkably, the town seems to expand
its physical extent and continues receiving trade in amphorae right up to the 10th
Century and beyond, into the Islamic period. (A number of Greek towns in Sicily
held out, e.g. the Saracens did not succeed in taking Messina until 843; and
although Malta fell to the Saracens in 869-70, plainly some trade with Muslim
Sicily continued.) Evidently the urban centre at Melita survived and flourished.
Its command of the island’s commercial outlets seems to have led to a decline in
the agricultural infrastructure it had inherited from the earlier Roman period. —
Nathaniel Cutajar, ‘The role of liminal territories in the early Byzantine
Commonwealth: the Maltese example’, at

By the year 820 relations between Emperor Leo V and Michael, domestic

[commander] of the Excubitors [elite regiment], deteriorated to the point that

Michael was imprisoned and sentenced to death (Treadgold 1997: 433).
Leo is assassinated in Hagia Sophia by agents of the imprisoned Michael ‘the
Amorian’, general of the tagma [elite regiment] of the Excubitors. Browning 1992:
64 says the assassin was a passionate partisan of icons, although Michael himself
was an Iconclast. Leo's sons were all castrated to prevent them making a future
challenge for the throne (Norwich Apogee p.30).
During the night of Christmas Eve 820, Michael's co-conspirators freed him
from prison. Together they hacked Leo to death as he listened to hymns on
Christmas morning. Afterwards they proclaimed the Amorian general emperor as
Michael II.

The 9th century (the 800s) was the golden age of TRANSLATIONS FROM
GREEK TEXTS INTO ARABIC at the court of the Muslim Khalifs, though some
translation had certainly taken place earlier.

Al-Mamun, Caliph 813-33, was passionately interested in 'Hellenic studies'

especially geometry. The emperor, however, declined to assist the caliph, offering
polite refusals to a request that he send him Greek [Rhomaion: Byzantine]
scholars and Greek texts (Mango 1980: 139).
Al-Ma'mun, son of Harun ar-Rashid, was the first great patron of Greek-inspired
philosophy and science in the history of Islam. He encouraged the holding of
disputes in court on logical, theological and legal matters. He established in
Baghdad his famous 'Bayt al-Hikmah' or House of Wisdom, combining a library
and an academy. The library contained many books on literature, natural sciences
and logic. Or at least the traditional view is that the Bayt was an academy: Gutas
pp.58 ff argues it was just a antiquarian library and not a place for discussion or
argument, disputes being held elsewhere. He argues that the library served as a
storage place for ancient documents, and as a base for translation work and book-
binding. Cf 821: al-Khwarizmi.

MICHAEL II ‘the Amorian’,
'the Lisper or Stammerer’ [Gk: Traulos]

Born at Amorium in Phrygia, west-central Asia Minor, Michael was aged

about 50 when he assumed the throne. Rising from the ranks, he
served as a senior general under Emperor Leo V, who he helped gain
the throne. Leo had him arrested for heading a conspiracy, but the
plotters murdered Leo and raised Michael to the throne.
In c. 823, his first wife Thekla having died, Michael II brought
Euphrosyne, the daughter of Constantine VI, out of the convent to
which she had retired and married her.
It is said that he was illiterate (Hearsey p.118) which would seem
unlikely for a general; but possible, as he had risen from the ranks.
More probably Norwich, 1993: 41, is right in calling him barely literate.
In the religious controversy, Michael tolerated both orthodoxy and
iconoclasm but personally favoured iconoclasm. He lost (AD 825 ff)
Crete to Spanish Arabs, while other Muslims from Tunisia began (827)
the invasion of Sicily.

Michael attempted a reform of the long neglected bronze coinage. Larger bronze
folles struck at the capital were apparently pumped into the economy of certain
Balkan areas as a matter of deliberate governmental policy [cf below: economic

recovery after AD 825], while the coins of the Syracuse mint in Sicily retained
their appearance and served mostly the Italian provinces of the empire - the lower
'boot' of the peninsula, Sicily and Sardinia. This was a task that would only to be
completed by his son Theophilos, with results basically persisting for over 250
years, until the late-11th c. monetary changes of Alexios I. —Bozinovic,
“Byzantine Coinage’,; accessed 2008.

Rebellion and civil war, perhaps the greatest and most widespread rebellion in all
of Byzantine history (says Norwich 1993: 36). Turmoil in Asia Minor, and failed
sieges of the capital 821 and 822: insurrection against Michael II by troops loyal to
Leo under general Thomas 'the Slav', who, like Michael, had served under Leo
(Curta 2006: 156). Thomas was in fact an Anatolian, i.e. a “hellenized” Slav born
and raised in Anatolia.
McCormick 2001:144 calls this revolt ‘the last great uprising of the themes’.
The Bulgarians are persuaded to intervene on Michael’s side. With the troops
of the Opsician theme and his Bulgarian allies, the emperor eventually defeats the
rebel army in Thrace (823).

Thomas was patronized by the Caliph al-Ma'mun who permitted him to be

crowned in Antioch by the patriarch of that city (Kennedy 2006).
Thomas was crowned Emperor by the Patriarch of Antioch, and almost all the
themes in Asia Minor except the Opsikon and Armeniakon accepted him. For more
than a year, Constantinople was besieged by the rebels (see below: 821-22) until
they were smashed by the Bulgarians in the spring of 823: see there. -
Theophanes Continuatus, "Chronographia", col. 53, in Greek Sources of Bulgarian
History: GSBH, pp. 334 -5.

On 10 April 824 Michael II or Theophilus wrote to the Frankish emperor Ludovicus

or Hludwig or Louis I the Pious—also called ‘le Debonnaire’ (the Fair)—speaking
thus of the 821-823 rebellion of the then dead Thomas the Slav: "Thomas... by
taking our ships and boats, had the possibility to come into (some) parts of Thrace
and Macedonia. In such a quick action, he besieged our city [Constantinople] and
surrounded it with the fleet in the month of December, Indiction 15 [December
821]”. Thomas is said by Skylitzes to have had ‘80,000’ fighting men on his side in
821, when supported by all the themes except the Opsician and by a motley crew
of adventurers beside (Tsangadas 1980: 156). Skylitzes (Wortley p.34) says the
Armeniakon stayed loyal to Michael as well as the Opsician.
As stated in the letter to Louis: "...he had powerful enemy forces ... from the
regions in Asia, Europe, Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly and from the surrounding
Sclaveni." Skylitzes says the Muslims also sent men to help him. – The empire’s
entire land army at this time was only about 90,000 in total (Treadgold Army
p.67). We may picture, I suppose, 30,000 Greek soldiers being joined by 50,000
Slavic troops, armed civilians and a frew Muslim units. Haldon 1999: 102,
however, prefers to dismiss the figure of 80,000 as “inflated”.

In 821 when Thomas’s forces advanced on Constantinople, he “equipped both

bireme ships and other rounded grain-transporting [ships] together with horse-
transporting [ships] …” which he assembled at Mitylene on the coast of Lesbos
before advancing on Abydos. The horse-transports were presumably galleys
(Theophanes Continuatus, quoted in Dromon p.308). Cf 824: Muslim horse-
After his capture Thomas was compelled to prostrate himself (proskynesis)
before Michael* and was paraded before the loyal troops, probably to reinforce
the fact of his complete failure. At Arcadiopolis he suffered double amputation
and was paraded backwards on a donkey before being killed [impaled:** see
823]. Only then did Michael enter the city in a triumphal parade and preside over
the victory races in the Hippodrome. He showed some clemency by not killing the
other rebel leaders, although they were humiliated by being paraded through the
Hippodrome bound and seated on asses (McCormick 2001: 146).

(*) An illustration in the Madrid Skylitzes shows Thomas kneeling forward

with his head touching the ground.

(**) At a later period (after 950), when carried out by Greeks, “impaling”
(Gk anskolopismos) meant ‘empaling’, i.e. being tied up and exposed on a
forked pole, and not having the stake inserted into or through one’s body.
The victim was first ridiculed and then either strangled or left to die of
thirst (Notes to Leo the Deacon, trans. Talbot & Sullivan p. 216).

The Bibliotheca or Library of Photius, the future Patriarch, was a notebook written
possibly between 820 and 827 AD. The date is much debated: Angold 2001 p.127
says ‘not before 838’. It consists of a series of book-reviews - summaries or
'codices' - of works he has read. Much of what he read is no longer extant, and his
review often comprises all that we know of a particular work.

1. According to Symeon the Logothete (“SL”), Michael relaxes his persecution of
iconophiles, early 821.

2. Constantinople: Inscriptions show work was done on repairing the seawalls.

Presumably this was to anticipate an attack by Thomas. The rebel army arrived
before the land walls in December 821 (Tsangadas 1980: 62, 156).
SL [date according to Symeon the Logothete]: Thomas the Slav marches on
Constantinople Oct./Nov. 821. Siege from Dec 821 to Nov 822.

From 821:
The Balkans: The Bulgarians build a great new royal palace at Preslav, inland in
east-central Bulgaria: west of Varna, to replace Pliska.
In its later heyday, Preslav will occupy 3.5 sq km (1.75 km x 1.75 km); and
today the remains can be seen of the eastern wall with its turret, the palace, the
ceremony hall and the Rotunda (the Golden Church) whose dome was gilded
outside and whose interior was covered with a precious mosaic on a golden
background. Cf 831.

c. 821 (during the reign of Ma'mun): Publication of the famous book on

algebra by the Arab scholar al-Khwarizmi, which was to revolutionise
mathematical studies for all time.

Thomas’s rebels besiege Constantinople for one year: Dec. 821-Nov. 822.
So large were his forces that they extended along the whole line of the land
walls, from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn. But the sea routes were kept
open. Several assaults failed. Thomas abandons the siege and plunders Thrace,
November 822. Cf 823 – the Bulgarians intervene.
The forces of the would-be emperor Thomas brought up “rams, tortoises, and
some helepoleis [trebuchets] in order to shake down the walls” of Constantinople
(Theoph. Cont. 2.13). In addition to petroboloi [stone-throwers], ladders, rams,
tortoises, and fire arrows from his ships, Thomas ordered the engagement of
some ‘four-legged’ helepoleis (2.14). These last were obviously large, trestle-
framed, traction (rope-pulled) trebuchets, the other petroboloi perhaps being
smaller. “Every day large bands of soldiers brought these machines forward
against the walls of the city”. —Theophanes 2.18, quoted in Dennis, 1998/99,
Byzantine Heavy artillery.
The loyalists destroyed two fleets sent by Thomas. The second, arriving from
Hellas and the Peloponnesus in the early summer of 822 was destroyed by Greek
Fire (Norwich 1993: 34).

In the course of the revolt, the central (Imperial) fleet destroyed the Aegean fleet;

but the fighting was debilitating on both sides. Hocker, in Gardiner 2004: 92,
argues that this civil war seriously weakened the maritime power of Byzantium
(and of course the army more so). Cf 825-28: loss of Crete.

1. Siege of Constantinople, as related above.

2. NW Balkans: Slavic incursions into imperial territory. The name "Serb" is first
recorded in 822. The Serbs briefly achieve independence and throw off their
nominal allegiance to Byzantium; the Franks meanwhile reimposed their
dominance over the Croats.
As a later emperor wrote, “when the Roman [Byzantine] empire - through the
sloth and inexperience of those who then governed it and especially in the time of
Michael from Amorion, the Lisper [Michael II, r. 820-29] - had declined to the
verge of total extinction, the inhabitants of the cities of Dalmatia [present-day
coastal Croatia and Montenegro] became independent, subject neither to the
emperor of the Romans nor to anybody else, and, what is more, the nations of
those parts, - the Croats and Serbs and Zachlumites [Zahumljans], Terbuniotes
[Travunians] and Kanalites and Diocletians [Dukljans] and the Pagani (*), - shook
off the reins of the empire of the Romans and became self-governing and
independent, subject to none. Princes, as they say, these nations had none, but
only "zupans", elders, as is the rule in the other Slavonic regions” (Constantine
VII, in DAI: De administrando imperio). Cf 878.

(*) The Slavic chiefdoms on the Dalmatian coast were, from NE to SE:
Croats, Pagani (Neretvia, Narentines), Zahumlje [east of Dubrovnik],
Travunia and Duklja. The last three were proto-Serbian tribes. The interior
was held by further Croats (NW) and Serbs (SE).

The Croats recognized Frankish suzerainty, while the rest of Dalmatia was
theoretically Byzantine. In practice officials appointed by Byzantium controlled
only a handful of the Romance-speaking islands and coastal towns. Specifically
the Dalmatian (Romance) speakers lived on the three northern islands of 1 Krk, 2
Cres and 3 Rab (Italian ''Veglia”, “Cherso'' and ''Arbe'') (in today’s upper Croatia);
and in five coastal towns: 1 Zadar: Greek Diadora, 2 Trogir: Gk Tragurion, 3 Split,
4 Dubrovnik (Ragusa) and 5 Kotor: Gk Askrevion (*) (respectively “Zara, Traù,
Spalato, Ragusa” and “Cattaro” in Venetian and Italian), each of these towns
having a local dialect.

(*) Part of today’s Montenegro.

After his first wife died, the emperor Michael II chose Euphrosyne, the daughter of
Constantine VI, for his second wife. This was the cause of some controversy,
because of the fact that she was at that time a nun (PBW, citing Theoph. Cont. II
24 pp. 78-79, and III 1 p. 86, Zonaras. XV 24. 12-13; Genesius II 14, and Theod.
Stud. etc).

Thrace: SL (Symeon the Logothete) says Michael’s troops defeated and killed
Thomas in mid-October 823.
After withdrawing from the siege of Constantinople, Thomas’s forces captured
Arcadiopolis in early 823. In alliance with Michael, as we have seen, the
Bulgarians attacked Thomas’s forces from the rear and dispersed them. Michael’s
troops then laid siege to the town. After a siege that lasted until October,
Thomas’s troops were starving; they surrendered him, and, as we have related,
he was put to death at Arcadiopolis. First his hands and feet were cut off, then his
body was impaled on, or ‘empaled’ to, a stake (Norwich, Apogee 1991: 36;
McCormcik 2001: 144; Bradbury 2004: 173).

The result of the civil war was a general weakening of Byzantine military power
(Browning 1992: 64). There would be no major campaigns until the next reign
(under Theophilus, acc. 829).

c. 824 (around 823-25):

S Asia Minor: A large Muslim fleet attacked Antalya, the capital of the Kibyrrhaeot
Horse-transporter galleys: The future St Anthony the Younger, born John
Echimos, was a senior official [ek prosõpou, ‘deputy, imperial representative,
personal appointee’, lit. “from the person”] at nearby Syllaion, ca. 821-29, and
could recall that 60 horsemen, including the Muslim commander, deployed from
the ships. As Pryor & Jeffreys note, if the Arab commander was mounted when he
disembarked, then he must have done so from a galley, because sailing ships of
any size could not be beached (Dromon p.308).
The vita of Anthony the Younger also preserves a precious detail that
demonstrates that women's activity was not limited to religious disputes: when an
Arab fleet, in about 825, attacked Attaleia/Antalya on the Mediterranean coast of
Asia Minor, the governor of the town summoned to the walls not only men, but
also young women dressed in male clothing (Kazhdan & Wharton. 1985: 99).
The Vita also reveals that adultery and fornication were far from unknown in
Byzantium: see in Alexander Kazhdan, “Byzantine Hagiography and Sex in the
Fifth to Twelfth Centuries,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 44 (1990): 131-32.

1. Germany: An embassy sent to Hludwig (Louis)’ court travelled from
Constantinople (April 824) via Venice to Rouen (present-day NW France:
November 824). It took 10 silks of different colours among other diplomatic gifts.
Cf under 825: silk trade to Bulgaria.
Despite the agreement of 814, Emperor Michael in 824 addressed a letter to
Hludwig (Louis) ‘the Pious’ somewhat insultingly saluting him as "glorious king of
the Franks and Lombards, [and] who is called their emperor". In Latin: glorioso
regi Francorum et Langobardorum et vocato eorum imperatori: Mansi, Concilia,
14, 417; and Dölger, Regesten, 1, n. 408; idem, "Europas Gestaltung," 309 f, cited
by Anastos,; accessed 2005.

2. Possible date for the creation of a theme of Thessalonica, raised from the
status of an ‘archontate’ or lordship: a letter from Michael II to Hludwig (Louis) the
Pious in 824 seems to allude to it (Stavridou-Zafraka, in Burke and Scott 2000).
Treadgold prefers earlier, in c.809: see there. Cf 836.

By 825: A market economy is re-emerging, with strong recovery by

900. The number of Byzantine coin-finds begins to rise sharply early in the ninth
century, in hoards and in single coins, both outside the confines of the empire and
within it. This is interpreted as the resurgence of a market economy based on
money following the dark ages of the period 650-800, during which the 'natural'
market - barter and payment in kind - was prevalent (Browning 1975: 110).
Under Michael II, 820–829, the weight of the follis was increased to about eight
grams; this broad, heavy piece was to become the characteristic copper coin of
the middle Byzantine period.

Cécile Morrisson notes that the recovery, regardless of its origins, occurred earlier
in Italy than in the rest of the empire since it was felt in Calabria as early as 813.
But in Capitanata, to the north of the Ofanto River - the greater Foggia region -, it
clearly coincided with Basil I’s reconquest later in the 9th century (i.e., by 886) and
was manifested, she says, “with some force”. Around Bari and in the south, the
continuity was “more marked, albeit weaker,” according to G. Guzzetta, “who is
not more specific” (Morrisson, ‘Byzantine money’, in Laiou et al. 2002). The
reasons for the re-emergence of a market economy are not clear.The state
revenues from tax and excise etc have been estimated as 1.8/1.9 million
nomismata (gold coins) in 775, rising to 3.1 million in 842 (up 72%) and 5.9
million by 1025 (Treadgold, 1995 and 1997: 575).

The typical soldier’s annual salary was five nomismata in the 700s, rising to
nine gold coins by the mid 800s [see below: Theophilus's reorganisation of 839].
In addition, each soldier held a farm of 150-720 modii, which is 30-144 acres or 12
to 58 hectares. Treadgold says that infantrymen may have struggled, but the
farm of a cavalryman made him sufficiently rich, with tenant-peasants to work his
land, that he did not to have to work himself. In practice, however, the
cavalryman probably did take an active part in running the farm. Thus Browning
remarks that military tenants were very substantial ‘peasants’, by which he
means working farmers, indeed "almost small gentry" (Treadgold 1995: 159 ff
and 175 ff; Browning p.130).
In contrast, Bulgaria still had a largely non-monetary economy. Goods were
paid for in oxen and sheep; the same applied to taxes. Gold coins were used only
to pay for imported luxury goods, such as silk for the Bulgarian upper class
(Browning p.111).

825-28 (*)
1. Exiles or adventurers from Muslim Spain, re-expelled from Egypt,
overrun Romanic Crete, which becomes a pirate base. They are said to have
numbered 10,000 men, not counting their woman ansd children; or at least that
was their number when they left Spain (Norwich, Apogee p.37; Jenkins, Imperial
Centuries p.144). See 827 – invasion of Sicily.

(*) Widely divergent accounts are given in Byzantine and Arab sources for
the date of the ‘Arab’ [Muslim] invasion. Perhaps the best date for the initial
landing is 827 or 828; and it took years before the whole island was
subjugated (Ignatius, ed. Mango, & Efthymiadis 1997 p.191).

The Arabs in question (actually muladi or ethnically non-Arabic ‘Hispanics’), led by

Abu Hafs, had left Spain for Egypt in 816, terrorized Alexandria for nearly 10 years
and then swept into the Aegean, capturing and establishing themselves securely
on the island of Crete. The first landing comprised only “40” ships, or 250 per ship
if all 10,000 participated. For over 130 years, the Arab colony of slave-hunters
was systematically to depopulate the islands of the Aegean and the coastlands of
Greece to supply the Muslims’ slave auctions.
The first or one of the first attempts by Byzantium to re-conquer the island was
made in 826 (or after 829: Wortley, notes to Skylitzes p.47) by general Karteros or
Krateros, strategos of the Kibyrrhaiotai, with a fleet of “over 70” ships, and was
initially successful. The site of the battle and the shattering of the local
Romanic/Byzantine forces by the Arabs was today’s Karteros, a few kilometres
east of Heraklion [mod. Iraklion, north coast of Crete]. It preserves even today the
name of the general.
He disembarked to the east of Handaka (Heraklion) and stubbornly engaged
the Arabs in battle for one whole day; finally, he routed the Arabs, who fled to the
city. Karteros' army camped by the river Amnisos, where they abandoned
themselves to drunkenness in celebration of their victory. When the Arabs were
informed of this, they attacked the unguarded army during the night and
destroyed it. Karteros fled in a ship, but the Arabs pursued him to the island of
Kos, off SW Asia Minor, where they killed him (by cruciifixion, says Skylitzes, trans.
Wortley p. 48).

Another expedtion, probably 828: see there) was led by Photeinos or Photius or
Photeinos, the governor of the theme of the Anatolikon, who had been appointed
general-designate of Crete (Dromon p.46; Bury p.289 dates this to 825 or 826).
He sailed from the Kibyrrhaeot theme, which is to say: via Rhodes. He
disembarked on the island, but his attempt failed.

This marked a temporary end of imperial naval supremacy in the


2. fl. Ignatius “the Deacon”, poet, hagiographer and archbishop of Nicaea. He

wrote poetic fables and the lives of several saints and recent patriarchs, including
Nicephorus (above: see 815).

826 = 100 YEARS OF ICONOCLASM. See next – Theodore.

1. Rebellion in Byzantine Sicily (held by as few as 2,000 imperial troops)*: The
following year the rebels will seek Muslim help. See 827: Aghlabid invasion.
In 826 or 827 the local naval commander (drungarius or tourmaches, ‘deputy
commander’) Euphemius or Efthymios rebelled, killed Constantine Soudes/Souda,
the senior strategos of Sicily, in a battle near Catania, captured the provincial
capital Syracuse and proclaimed himself emperor.

(*) Stathakopoulos 2008 offers conservative figures for population density in

the Byzantine millenium of nine people per km2 in tough times, rising to 15
per km2 in fair to good times. The area of the island is 25,700 km2. Thus its
population may have been as large as 380,000.

Euphemius of Messina, the turmarch or second-in-charge of the theme of Sicily,

and local naval commander, abducts and rapes a high-born nun, or at least he
forces her to marry him. Or such was the charge against him (Michele Amari,
Storia dei Musulmani di Sicilia [in Italian], Felice le Monnier, 1854, Vol, 1, p. 239).
For this crime, Emperor Michael II orders Gregoras, the strategos of Syracuse to
arrest Euphemius, cut off the criminal’s nose, and send him in chains back to
Constantinople. Before this can be accomplished, however, Euphemius rose in
revolt and killed the strategos.
A strong fleet was dispatched from Constantinople to Sicily under the strategus
of the Anatolics, Photinus, and Euphemius was soon defeated in a battle off
Syracuse. But, eluding capture, he boarded a ship and escaped to Tunisia where
he took refuge with the Saracen Aghlabid Emir Ziyadat Allah.
The Venetian-Byzantine victory at Syracuse is listed by Pryor & Jeffreys (p.385)
as one of the most notable naval victories achieved by the empire.

Troops faithful to Byzantium, led by the Armenian general Palata [Arabic “Balata”,
Gk: Photinus], resumed control, and Euphemius fled to Africa, taking with him the
whole Sicilian Themal fleet (cf 832). He may also have taken the secret of Greek
Fire with him. Euphemius proposed to the Aghlabid emir of Kairuan, Ziyadat Allah
I, that the Muslims conquer Sicily and make it a tributary province. In exchange he
asked to be recognised as governor with the title of emperor.

The Greek exile convinces the Emir that Sicily can be conquered and that if
Ziyadat Allah would set him up as Emperor in Sicily, he would pay the Saracens a
large annual tribute. Ziyadat Allah willingly listened and agreed to mount a large
expedition, but with the unstated intention of conquering the island for himself
rather than Euphemius.
Ziyadat Allah declares a holy war against the Sicilian Byzantines and readies
his forces under the command of a 70 year old lawyer and holy man Ased-ibn-
Forat (or Furat). He rallies supporters from throughout the Muslim world and soon
has ready an army of Arabs, Berbers, Moors, Spanish Saracens, and even
Persians. See further under 827.

2. d. Abbot Theodore of Studios, a major monastery in Constantinople. Since 798

he had been the leader of the "Zealot” party; theologian and great defender of
icons. Banished several times, he died on an island in the Sea of Marmara.

Oikonomides, in Laiou ed., 2002, notes that in the first quarter of the ninth
century, there were paper makers (not to be confused with parchment makers)

in the monastery of Stoudios, which had a large scriptorium, and in the tenth
century paper makers holding honorary titles are found in the Peloponnese; it
would seem that they were suppliers to the court. We also possess the seal of a
“komes of paper makers,” who (says Oikonomides) must surely have been a state
Although paper was known from the 800s, it did not come into significant use
until later and it never wholly displaced parchment (Cameron 2009: 136).

According to SL, Arabs make conquests in Crete, the Cyclades and Sicily. The Arab
sources likewise date this to 825-28. See more under 827.

Constantinople: Tradition says that the female writer Kassia was at one point
beaten for helping iconodule exiles and imprisoned monks. This may be merely a
legend, but we do know that she was in contact with one of the chief iconodules,
the monk Theodore of Studium. We have a letter he wrote to her c.826: the letter
lets us know that while she was still a teenager she was already sharing her
writings with others.
Another tradition has Kassia being considered as a wife by the Emperor
Theophilis in 830 [see there] and being rejected because she spoke up for
women; again, the story may be untrue, but its existence shows her reputation for
wit. Thus —, accessed April 2005.
Kassia was born around A.D. 810; her death date is uncertain. Her
compositions were written during the reign of Theophilos (829-42) and his son
Michael (842-67). She wrote in a period that was contemporary with the famous
hymnographers from the monastery of Studios, including such composers as
Theodore of Studite, Joseph of Thessalonika, and St. Theophanes. Mostly known
as a composer of sacred poems, Kassia was also a writer of secular poems. As a
gifted poet, Kassia wrote 261 secular verses in the forms of epigrams, gnomic
verses, and moral sentences.* —Diane Touliatos-Miliotis, Women Composers in
Byzantium, at; accessed Dec 2006.

(*) For English translations, see Antonia Tripolitis, Kassia: The Legend, the
Woman, and Her Work. New York: Garland Press, 1992.

1. The middle Danube (Belgrade): Peace with Byzantium allowed the
Bulgarians to focus on their western border, where the various
independent Slav tribes gave only nominal allegiance to either the
Frankish king or the Bulgarian khan. Accordingly Khan Omurtag now
proceeded to conquer Pannonia, including the old Roman sites of
Branicevo, Belgrade and Sirmium. He installed Bulgarian governors in
place of the local Slavic chiefs (Vine 1991: 107; Shepard in NCMH 1995:

2. Ambassadors from Michael II came to Louis II at Compiègne, on the Oise River

north of Paris. They brought holy books and were well received (McCormick 201:

From 827:
Loss of Sicily: Aghlabids from Muslim Tunisia invade Sicily, besiege
Syracuse and overrun much of the island. Cf 831: fall of Palermo, northern
coast; also 829, 837, 878.
On 17 June 827, in the midst of internal Byzantine conflict, the Aghlabids and
the defector Euphemius arrived at, or rather near, Marsala in Sicily - on the far
western tip of the island, - with a fleet of 70 or 99 ships, 700 horses and 10,000
men under the command of Asad ibn al-Furat ("Lion, son of the Euphrates"), a 68
(or 70) years old scholar, religious judge and non-military man (Scarfiotte & Lunde
1978; Norwich, Apogee p.28). Nuwairi says the invaders had “99” ships (cited in
McCormick 2001: 912).

Palermo was conquered in due course (831) and became the new capital.

Aghlabids: rulers at Kairouan in what is now Tunisia. The Aghlabid emirs

maintained a splendid court, though at the cost of oppressive taxes; their public
works for the conservation and distribution of water, however, contributed to the
prosperity of a country that was on the whole peaceful. Their fleet was supreme
in the central Mediterranean (until Basil I revived the Byzantine navy: cf 829, 835,
836, 868).
The dynastic name came from: Al-Aghlab (Abu `Iqal) bin Ibrahim bin Al-Aghlab,
the fifth Aghlabid king or emir of Tunisia (ruled 816-841 A.D.). Cf 829.

Muslim conquest of western Sicily

Despite a number of naval adventures in the 7th and 8th centuries, a serious
Muslim attack was not launched till 827 with a fleet that anchored in the far west,
at Mazara del Vallo. Conquest did not prove quick and easy, and a decades long,
bitterly fought struggle ended. after 75 years, only with the fall of Taormina in
Palermo, conquered in 831, became the new capital of a semi-independent
emirate of the Muslim empire. In 845-46, the Aghlabids were able to sack the
suburbs of Rome and briefly seize the heel of Italy.
Greek and Latin speakers still dominated in the island’s east: the Noto and
Demone regions, with Arab penetration strongest in the Mazara (*) sector to the

(*) The western third of Sicily was known as (1) the Val di Mazara. The
south-east region, including Syracuse, was called by the Arabs (2) the Val
di Noto, after the town of that name. The remaining third of the island in
the north-east - the last to be conquered - was called (3) the Val Demone,
and included Catania and Messina. The word "val" is derived from the
Arabic word meaning "province".

In 827 again, the general and rebel Euphemius invited Ziadeth [Ziyadat] Allah,
‘Prince’ [emir] of Kairowan, to come. An expedition consisting of 100 ships (or
“99”; some say 70), 700 horsemen and “10,000” foot soldiers departs from Susa
(Sus), Tunis, led by the Arab jurist (qadi) Asad ibn al-Furat (Ahmad, Sicily p.7;
McCormick 2001: 912 citing Nuwairi and Amari).
Landing with little resistance on the west coast at Mazara, the invading force
contained Arabs, Berbers from Tunisia, Andalusians [a contingent of the Crete-
based Muslim Spaniards], Persians and Sudanese Blacks. There were also a few
renegade Byzantines under Euphemius. The rebel Euphemius accompanied the
Saracens in the belief that the Sicilians would rally to him rather than support
Constantinople. Although he had a small group of supporters, most Sicilians
rejected him as a traitor and criminal.

(17-18 June 827:) Saracen Aghlabids of Northern Africa invade Sicily. The invasion
fleet, consisting of 100 Saracen ships, plus Euphemius’s ships, reached Mazara
del Vallo on the southwest coast of Sicily, where they landed a force of 10,000
infantry and 700 cavalry.

On 17-18 June 827 the general Asad ibn al-Furat with an army of 10,000 foot
soldiers and “7,000” [or more probably: 700] cavalrymen crossed to Sicily and
disembarked at Mazara del Vallo (near Marsala: almost the westernmost point on
the island). Rodriquez says (more credibly) that the fleet included between 70 and
100 ships and transported 1,000 foot and 700 horse without counting on the
forces of Euphemios. (If Arab horse transports carried the same number of
animals as did Byzantine boats, namely 12 [see 763], then these 700 horses
would have required 58 boats. The troops themselves, if we assume 50 men per
vessel, might have required 34 vessels.)

(15 July:) Photinus, the Byzantine strategos, attacks the Saracen invaders near

Platana, in the vicinity of Mazara but suffers a major defeat, losing most of his
army. Photinus manages to escape capture and retreats to Enna, and eventually
to Calabria, only to die soon afterwards. It is reported that the Saracen victory
was largely due to the state of religious fervour which Ased-ibn-Forat stirred in his
followers prior to the battle. A story, probably apocryphal, said that Forat himself
led the Saracen charge against the Byzantine front ranks and slew so many of the
enemy that his hand became glued to his lance by their dried blood. —Source:

Saracens capture Agrigentum and rename it Kerkent (or 828). They then
continued eastwards towards Syracuse. The invasion begins to stall temporarily
until a second wave of invaders arrives in 831.

Having defeated the Armeno-Byzantine general Photinus or ‘Balãta’, Ziadeth’s

men captured Girgenti [Agrigento: middle of the south coast] the same year (or
more likely in 828) and then proceeded to make a conquest on his own account
(Metcalfe 2009: 12).The Romaniyans made an energetic effort to repel an enemy
much superior to themselves. Syracuse held out. But Messina, opposite the toe of
the peninsula, was taken in 831, and Palermo on the central north coast of Sicily
in 831-32.

Saracens besiege Syracuse. Lacking siege engines, and hungry from the
Byzantine scorched-earth retreat, the Muslims failed to take the fortified town
which is re-provisioned from the sea. Encamped outside the city, their army is
struck by a severe plague, probably malaria from the nearby marshes along the
river Anapo. Nevertheless the siege continues for almost a year. When the
sickness finally (828) claims the life of their charismatic or fanatical leader, Ased-
ibn-Forat [Asad ibn al-Furat], the Saracens lose heart and lift their siege.

It has been suggested that Euphemios may have carried the secret of Greek Fire
with him when he went over to the Arabs. At any rate, by 835 (see there) the
Arabs were using Greek Fire, or at least some sort of incendiary material.
The contest in the Mediterranean had become much more equal: Muslim
warships from North-West Africa operating in the Tyrrhenian Sea [west of Italy]
were equipped with Greek Fire, or at least some sort of incendiary instrument, by
835. The Spanish Umayyads were using it by 844. Toynbee guesses that the
secret may have been conveyed to them by the turncoat Euthymius (see under
827) (Toynbee 1973: 330 and Browning p.138). Pryor & Jeffreys argue that the
Greeks at this time kept their petroleum-fired siphons a secret and the Arabs were
using other kinds of incendiary devices. But the Muslims perhaps did acquire
the secret of the Fire itself after 900 if not the manufacture of siphons;
importantly, there is no record of Muslims using force-pumps. For example, the
Greek Fire used by the Egyptians against the Crusaders at Damietta in 1249 was
contained in earthenware pots hurled by catapult (Dromon pp.611-12).

827/28: Baghdad: fl. Ar-Rumi, Arabic translator of the Greek Almagest by

Ptolemy; also decimal numerals introduced.

Failed Muslim conquest of Sicily: As related above, on 17-18 June 827, an army
from Tunisia had landed in the far west and fought its way across the island to
Syracuse. The lack of food for the Ifriqiyans camped before the walls of Syracuse
affected their morale seriously and facilitated an epidemic in their camp that
killed their leader Asad at the beginning of the summer of 828.
Not having time to consult Kairouan, the Muslim army chose as its new leader
Mohammed ibn Abíl Gawari or Abi-l-Jawari. Then, when Syracuse seemed within
reach, there appeared on the coast the ships of a Byzantine fleet, including
Venetian ships, sent by the emperor to aid the town. This time the imperial
government was conscious of the danger of the situation and how difficult an
endeavour it would be to recover Syracuse if the Arabs captured it. So they

brought together all their available naval forces, including the fleet of the
Cibyrrhaeots [Kibyrrhaioton: SW Asia Minor] commanded by the strategos
[admiral] Crateros, and the Venetian fleet. The army that the fleet transported
was commanded by the patrikios Theodotus and included Armenians (Arabic: al-
Arman; or possibly al-Alman: ‘Alamans’ or Germans from N Italy: see McCormick
2001: 263n).
Seeing their way back to Africa barred, the Muslims burnt their own boats and
retreated inland to Mineo, NW of Syracuse. Later they went west, where they
stormed and garrisoned the important town of Girgenti (Agrigento). Next the main
force arrived (828) at Castro-janni (Enna), the most formidable natural fortress on
the island, where they repulsed an attack by the Byzantine general Theodotus
who retreated into the fortress. Theodotus came from Syracuse to relieve Enna
and entered the town, but he was defeated in a sortie, while a Venetian fleet sent
to attack Mazzara returned unsuccessful. See 829.
In the meantime the Muslims felt sufficiently in control of the hinterland that
they even minted their own coins! When the Muslims besieging Castrogiovanni
dropped their guard, Theodotus’s troops sallied out and won a significant victory.
The surviving Muslims fell back SE to Mineo again. At the same time the Muslim
garrision of Girgenti departed for Mazara in the far west. See 829.

All of Sicily was now – briefly – liberated from the Saracens, except for Mineo and
Mazara (Ahmad p.9). See 830.

2. Loss of Crete: While emperor Michael's main fleet was trying to recover Sicily,
a band of ‘Arab’ [Iberian Muslim] adventurers from Spain led by Abu Hafs seized
Crete. The imperial fleet was re-dispatched from Sicily back to Crete, but there it
was routed by the Arabs. See 829, 843.
The Andalusis landed with 40 ships (the figure given by Skylitzes) at the
promontory of Charax in the same year 212/827 (or, according to Michael the
Syrian, in 828: the dating is obscure). The camp became the town of Candia, the
site of which is under the present town of Herakleion, in the central section of the
north coast. From there they made raids into the island and conquered, one by
one, 29 towns*, without encountering the resistance which might have been
expected, either because of the absence of Greek troops or because of the
indifference of a population dissatisfied with Byzantine rule.
Cf al-Baladhuri: “In the caliphate of al-Ma'mun, it [Crete] was invaded by Abu-
Hafs 'Umar ibn-'Isa-l-Andalusi [“the Andalusian”], known [later] by the name of al-
Ikritishi [“the Cretan”], who first reduced one fort and occupied it. Then he kept
on reducing one part after another until none of the Greeks were left.* He also
dismantled their forts.” Muslim rule would endure there for nearly a century and a
half, until the island was recovered in 960-61 by a great imperial armada led in
person by the emperor Nikephoros Phokas.

(*) Skylitzes (Wortley p.47) says the Greek population was enslaved and all
the towns captured, except for one that was allowed to remain Christian.
(Stathakopoulos 2008 offers conservative figures for population density in
the Byzantine millenium of nine people per km2 in tough times, rising to
15 per km2 in average or good times. Thus Crete possibly had around
75,000 people in 827.)

3. The Aegean: In 828, the Arabs of Crete ravaged the island of Aegina off the NE
coast of the Peloponnesus; in the same year the Byzantines attempted to
reconquer Crete. Indeed Michael II may have sent as many as three expeditions in
the late 820s seeking to recover the island (Norwich 1993: 37).
Soon after 828, or in 825: see there, an expedition to Crete under the Greek
commander Photios or Photeinos, strategos of the Anatolics, was joined by
reinforcements (“a large well-equipped force”) under Damianos, count of the
imperial stables. But the venture failed completely. Damianos was captured and

Photios fled with great difficulty. Another expedition led by admiral Crateros
landed on the island in the following year (or earlier: see 826), but after an initial
success, the troops were surprised in the night and massacred. Crateros
succeeded in escaping, but was pursued by the Saracens and captured on the
island of Cos (off SW Asia Minor) and hanged (Bury 1912; Skylitzes trans. Wortley

4. d. Patriarch Nikephoros, historian, defender of icons and critic of the religious

policies of Constantine V. His writings are a principal source of eastern European
history in the post-classical ‘Dark Age’.

Abu Hafs Omar I, first ‘Hafsid’ emir of Crete.
The archbishop of the Byzantine capital Gortyn (Cyril) was assassinated during
the conquest and the city so thoroughly devastated it was never reoccupied.
Heraklion, which became the Arabs’ seat, was fortified with brick walls set on
stone foundations, surrounded by a deep ditch or dry moat (khandaq), whence its
new name Rabdh el Khandaq, meaning Fortress of the Ditch. This became
Chandakas in Greek and Candia in Latin.

828-46: The Western emperor entrusted the defence of Corsica to Boniface

II, duke of Lucca and count of the Tuscan march, first ‘margrave of
Tuscany’. With a small fleet he conducted (summer 828) a successful
expedition, or better: raid, against the African Muslims, and returning to
Corsica built a fortress in the south of the island which formed the nucleus
of the town, Bonifacio, that bears his name (McCormick 2001: 264).
Boniface's war against the Saracens was continued by his son Adalbert,
after he had been restored to his father's dignities in 846; but, in spite of
all efforts, the Muslims seem to have remained in possession of part of the
island until about 930.

1. Sicily and the Aegean: Agrigento – in the middle of the Sicilian southern coast -
fell to the Saracens. A further Byzantine naval expedition briefly recovers most of
Sicily from the Aghlabids. Meanwhile the Crete-based Arabs, having landed in the
Cyclades, were pushed back to Crete (Treadgold, State p.436).

Rodriguez: The emperor sent an expedition to Sicily under the patrikios

Theodotos, previously strategos of Sicily, and possibly familiar therefore with the
region, with part of the central or imperial fleet (the Cibyrrhaeots were not sent,
as their fleet was not yet back in fighting trim after their defeat in Crete in the
previous autumn).
After disembarking, Theodotos led his troops directly against the Arabs, who
still were in the environs of Enna in the heart of the island. The Byzantines
attacked but they were defeated by their rivals and they suffered many losses as
well as the capture of 90 officials of high rank. After his defeat, Theodotos had
to take refuge in the tactics of harassment. He was able the next day to overcome
the Arab army that had been camped before the city, so taking revenge for the
losses of the previous day. Lacking the food needed to resist for a long time, the
Saracens tried a night attack but they succeeded only in being destroyed by the
imperial troops who were ready for their assault. The Arabs, who had already lost
to their leader Abíl Gawari during the siege, finally decided to leave their camp
and take refuge (March 829) in Mineo [SW of Catania], while the Muslim garrison
at Agrigento [Girgenti: centre of the south coast], unable to support itself,
dismantled its position and retired to Mazara in the far west of the island
(Kennedy, ‘The Muslims in Europe’, NCMH 2000: 252).
Thus in the autumn of 829, the Arabs only controlled two localities in Sicily and
their threat seemed to be defeated. Cf 830, 831.

2. Breviarum Nicephori, a history of the period 602-769 by [Saint] Nicephoros.


3. Michael II dies of natural causes. Age unknown, but around 59 years. He was
the first emperor in 50 years to expire in his bed while still reigning (Norwich
1993: 40).

4. Venice: According to pious tradition, in 829 Buono da Malamocco and Rustico

da Torcello carried from Alexandria the relics of Saint Mark, the future protector of
the city.

Imperial territory in 830

The empire comprised: Sardinia; two-thirds or at least half of Sicily (vs the
Aghlabid Emirate: fall of Palermo 831); the toe and heel of Italy; Venice and the
Dalmatian coast; nearly the whole of modern Greece (recently recovered from
pagan Slavs); Thrace and Constantinople; and the immense heartland of Asia
Minor. Crete had been lost to Muslims in 823/825, but Cyprus remained Byzantine.
The Bulgar Khanate, which extended south to the edges of northern Thrace,
was the enemy nearest to Constantinople.

The empire's population was about eight million, concentrated above all in
western Asia Minor (Treadgold 1995: 162).* At a guess, the distribution may have
been thus: 5 M in Asia Minor and the capital; 1.1 M in the Balkans: Albania-
Greece-Thrace; 1.8 M in Sicily-South Italy; and 0.1 M in Venice and Greco-Roman
— For comparison, McEvedy & Jones offer the following figures for western
Europe: France within its present-day borders 5 M; Italian peninsula 4 M, of whom
about 3 M lived in Lombard and Frankish Italy; and Germany (present-day
borders) 3.25 M. On these figures, Charlemagne's “Carolingian” Empire of
‘Francia’ was, briefly, perhaps equal to or even a little larger than
Byzantium's in population. More likely, Byzantium always had more subjects
than Carolingian Francia.
— Iberian peninsula: Over 4 M, of whom perhaps 3.5 M lived in Umayyad al-

(*) Stathakopoulos 2008 discusses the difficulties in guesstimating population

sizes. He suggests that a conservative figure for population density was nine
people per km2 in tough times, rising to 15 per km2 in average or good times.
The conquest of eastern Bulgaria, Cilicia and western Syria at the end of the 10th
C briefly brought the empire to over one million km2, so Treadgold’s “eight”
million people may be far too low. If density began to approach 20 person per
km2 around AD 1000 (ibid, 2008: 310), then the Empire may have ruled more
than 15 million people by AD 975.

Above: Emperor Theophilus, from the Madrid Skylitzes.


829-842: THEOPHILUS,
last of the iconoclast emperors.

Son of Michael II, Theophilus was aged about 16 at accession. Cf 840.

Brief regency under his mother the Dowager Empress Euphrosyne, d.
Wife: Theodora, aged 15 when she married T. in 830. Children:
seven, including Michael, born 840, the future Michael III.

Unlike his father, Theophilus was highly educated; indeed Norwich

1993: 41 calls him an intellectual. He restored the Great Palace,
evidently being inspired by the building work done in Baghdad by the
caliphs. He also strengthened the city’s defences, especially the
seawalls along the Golden Horn; his name appears more frequently on
inscriptions along the walls and towers more than does that of any
other emperor (Norwich 1993: 45).

GO HERE for a 12th C miniature showing conspirators being executed

on Theophilus’s orders:

A new theme of Chaldia created in far north-eastern Asia Minor (or perhaps
earlier under Leo). The seat of the strategus was at Trebizond.

1. Embassy to Baghdad: The imperial ambassador, the synkellos [deputy
patrriarch] John Morocharzianos—John ‘the Grammarian’: afterwards Patriarch—
took 40 kentenaria (4,000 pounds*) of gold to be scattered to the crowd during
his time there; he also brought two gold and gem encrusted kernivozesta or
‘washing sets’ (bowls) that were probably filled with coins (Continuator of
Theophanes 96.13).
Kennedy 2006: 139 writes of two embassies led by John, one in 829, the
second in 832.

(*) One litra or ‘Roman pound’ of gold was 72 nomismata; thus 288,000 coins!

2. Member of the Regency Council: Dowager Empress Euphrosyne, aged about 39.
She was daughter of Emperor Constantine VI who divorced her mother, Maria
of Amnia, ca. 770-ca. 830, and sent both of them to a monastery, where they
stayed until 820 when Michael II of Amorion usurped the throne and married
Euphrosyne in order to legitimise his reign. After his death, she was probably a
member of the regency council for his son, Theophilos, though the sources are not
clear about this. After she helped select his wife, Theodora, she retired (830) to a
convent, though she did not stay totally out of politics.

1. The Capital: Following a bride show arranged by Euphrosyne, Theophilos
married Theodora, having first considered then rejected Kassia (who became a
poetry-writing nun). Theodora’s father Marinos, d. 815, had been a drungarios
(colonel) and then turmach (brigadier or second in command) in the Theme of
Theophilus crowned Theodora in the Oratory of St Stephen and was himself
crowned on the same occasion by the patriarch Anthonios: Leo Gramm. 213,
Georg. Mon. Cont. 790, Ps.-Symeon 624-625, Zon. XV 25. 11-20.

2. Sicily: The Byzantines defeat a major Spanish-Maghrebian attack led by the

Berber adventurer Asbagh [Asbagh b. Wansus al-Hawwari] (NCMH 2000: 252).

Following the setbacks of 829, the Muslims obtained reinforcements in the

830, in part from Ifriqiya (then engaged in beating off an attack by the duke of
Lucca, Bonifacio II) and in greater part from al-Andalus, while in Sicily a group of
mercenaries arrived under the command of the Berber Asbagh b. Wak’l.
In the summer of 830 Sicily was attacked by a powerful Andalusi (Spanish) fleet
that joined up with reinforcements of North Africans. Between 20,000 and 30,000
men were transported in 300 ships (Ahmad p.10). The Muslims went to the aid of
the town of Mineo, SW of Catania, still being besieged by the Byzantines under
Theodotos. Faced by a significantly superior force, in August 830 the Romaniyans
had to retire to Enna - further into central Sicily - while Asbagh and his men
entered Mineo (August 830) to the rejoicing of the besieged Arabs (Bury 1923).
As Rodriguez relates, after sacking and burning the town, the Saracen leader
took all his troops to the siege of another town in the interior, probably Caloniana
(Arabic Ghalwaliya, present-day Caltanisetta: west of Enna). But, as at Enna and
in Syracuse, another epidemic broke out, causing the death of the commander-in-
chief, and although Asbagh’s men were able to take the town in the autumn of
that year, they decided finally to retire to their boats at the coast. This was the
moment Theodotos was waiting for. In a series of ambushes he caused so many
casualties among the Andalusis that they immediately set sail for home.
Meanwhile in August 830 other (African) Arabs marched NE from Mazara to lay
siege to Palermo (which falls the following year). The city fought alone because
emperor Theophilos had not been able to send ships to the aid of the town, partly
because of the losses suffered in recent years and partly because of the struggles
that the Cibyrrhaeot fleet and marines were having against the Cretan Arabs in
the Eastern Mediterranean.

3. Dalmatia: The Slavs on the Adriatic coast possessed a small fleet as early as
830. It was composed mainly of lémbi* – fast boats with flat bottoms, suitable for
taking up rivers and between the rocks in shallows and shoals – and was used
mostly in piracy. The tribal nature of Slav society meant that no distinction was
drawn between war as a political act and mere plundering. They attacked
everyone who travelled by sea: friends, protectors and allies, as well as enemies.
Piracy became an ordinary kind of work – with privileges, customs and rules.
Provided the ruler was given a share of the booty, they expected a free hand
(Praga, Dalmatia p. 57). Cf 834-46: cnflict with Venice.

(*) As in the name of San Pietro dei Lembi.

4. In Baghdad, the Caliph al-Ma’mun builds his Bayt al-Mikma or “house of

wisdom”, a Persian-style national archive or antiquarian library. - The city will
reach its cultural zenith by the late 800s.

5. fl. al-Jahiz, Arabic writer, belle-lettrist and rationalist theologian. An Iraqi of

black African ancestry, grandson of a slave. Author of 'compilations of
entertainment', which included a "Book of Eloquence" and "The Merits of the
Islamic superiority complex: In his Risala fi al-Radd ‘ala al-Nasara, ‘Letter On
Refuting the Christians’, c. AD 833, al-Jahiz noted that that the ancient Greeks
such as Aristotle were neither Rum (Byzantines) nor Christians, and argued that
“the Christians and the Rum have neither science nor expository literature, nor
vision, and their names should be erased from the register of the philosophers
and sages”: quoted in El Cheikh 2004: 104. - Cf 830: books; and 839-41:
Byzantine scholars leading embassies to Baghdad.
Also this: “the Slavs are more stingy than the Byzantines, and the latter more
intelligent and thoughtful”.



The Caliphate resumes war with Byzantium in Cilicia and SE Anatolia: (829-830:)

Described earlier: ostentatious embassy to Baghdad, and treaty. See 837.

The regency acting for Emperor Theophilus offered peace, but al-Mamun
refused to come to terms and renewed the raids (831). Then the caliph died at
Tarsus in 833, after capturing Tyana (Shaban p.61). The two powers agreed to a
truce at that point.

After a century of falling prices and a contracting money supply, Theophilus in
830-31 recoined the “wretched” bronze folles in circulation and augmented the
production of fractional currency. Folles and their fractions henceforth carry
Christian iconography and Greek inscriptions. The follis (8.0 gms), struck at 40 to
the Roman pound, was tariffed at 288 to the nomisma [source:].

Constantinople: The young emperor, aged about 18, holds a triumph following his
successes in the East against Arabs raiding the Armeniac Theme; and/or in 837:
the number of these triumphs and the dating is unclear: McCormick p.146. But
this was followed by a further Arab raid into Anatolia.

The Triumph of 831

There were two ceremonial welcomes to the victorious emperor, as was by now
First, a private welcome, held in the Asiatic suburban palace of Hiereia, which
was limited to senior officials and dignitaries.
Ten days later there followed a gala in the capital itself. The main festivities
commenced with a parade by troops bearing booty and leading prisoners. Carpets
were hung from the windows, the streets were adorned with festoons of purple
and silver, and the Mese - the main northern thoroughfare within the city – was
strewn with flowers. The emperor, the deputy emperor or caesar and heir
apparent followed in a separate party, clothed significantly in military gear,
although no doubt very ornamental. Wearing a diadem and carrying a sceptre,
Theophilus rode on a white charger with jewelled harness; over his cuirass he
wore a loose gold tunic embroidered with a design of roses and grapes. The
imperial group was greeted at various stages with ceremonial receptions, before
finally reaching Hagia Sophia (McCormick pp.148, 150; Norwich 1991: 46).
After prayers, the emperor received the homage of the "city community" and
delivered an account of his campaigns from a specially constructed platform. The
next and following days saw an extravagant series of audiences, promotions and
largess, in which almost the entire hierarchy of officialdom joined. Also, as usual
there were races, or at least equestrian shows, and further parades in the
Hippodrome (McCormick loc. cit.).

2. Sicily: After a year-long siege, Tunisian Muslims, aided by a few Andalusis, took
the island's second largest city Panormus, present-day Palermo. Thence into
peninsular Italy. See 837 and 838. A Byzantine sector will be preserved in the east
of Sicily until the late 870s, at which time the Muslims will take the last major
town, Syracuse.

In Sicily, Rhomaniya/Byzantium's rule was threatened by the Franks and North

African and Spanish Muslims. The Tunisians invaded Sicily in 827, taking Palermo
in 831. The "Saracens" will even briefly hold the toe of Italy, raiding as far as
Rome (see 837-41). Finally in 902 – see there - they will take Taormina, the last
Greek stronghold on the island.

The Byzantine Emperor Theophilus withdraws troops from Sicily to help repel the
Saracen invasion of Cappadocia. This severely weakens the Byzantine defences in
Sicily to a point where the defenders can no longer effectively resist the Saracen
threat on the island.
After a laborious siege that extended for more than a year, Palermo capitulated

on 12 September 831 when its food was exhausted, as was the hope of aid from
the outside (Ahmad p.10). Its governor, possibly the spatharios Symeon, and its
bishop Lucas, with other distinguished personages and the rest of the garrison,
possibly were able to leave the town with their goods and to return to
Constantinople. The rest of the population, which had been reduced to fewer than
3,000 souls, was considered as booty and shipped into military slavery (thus

Francia (Frankish Empire): Arabs launch a naval attack on Marseilles; and

sail up the estuary of the Rhône. Cf 840 – Vikings.

Pagan Bulgaria: Two of Omurtag's sons adopted Christianity, one losing his life in
a persecution on the accession of a third son, the pagan Malamir, in 831 or 832.
This may have been, however, just the normal Turkic elimination of rival
claimants: Malamir appears a relatively tolerant ruler throughout his reign, though
not himself a Christian (Vlasto 1970: 158).

New “imperial” kommerkiarioi. To keep its control of the east-west commercial
routes and its near monopoly on taxing the slave trade, the empire gave tax
collecting to the Byzantine traders or concessionaires (kommerkiarioi) who
hitherto had dealt in silk (as subcontractors to the state) as well as collecting
taxes. They now become state officials and full-time taxers of foreign trade
(Rotman p.71; Oikonomides in Laiou 2002).

The Bulgarians annex Slavo-Byzantine central Macedonia: they took
Romanic/Byzantine-controlled Serdica, our Sofia, in 836. They renamed it Sredets,
"centre," "middle". Cf 839 below.

By 832:
The Muslims were using the ex-Byzantine port of Palermo as an advance base to
support their attacks elsewhere in Sicily. The seat of the Byzantine governor after
the fall of Palermo was moved to the centre of the island, to the impregnable
fortress of Castrogiovanni, today’s Enna. One imagines Enna was chosen not only
because of its topography but also because it was distant from the sea, and so
unable to be surprised by a major Muslim naval expedition. Cf 834 and 841.

832: The caliph issues new coins bearing the words "Al-Quds", 'the Holy',
the new Muslim name for Jerusalem.

1. Asia Minor: The Caliph invades Cappadocia and defeats an East Roman army
led personally by Theophilus, aged 19 or 20. A further invasion in 833 ended
suddenly with Mamun’s death.Jihad: According to Gutas p.82, the wars conducted
by al-Ma'mun were qualitatively different from those of his predecessors, who had
mainly engaged in seasonal raids. The aim now - although it did not succeed - was
to wrest territory from New Rome and settle it with Muslims in order to expand
the domain of Dar al-Islam, 'the House (realm) of Islam'.

2. Dating by Symeon the Logothete: Theophilus begins a persecution of

iconophiles in late 832-early 833.

ca. 833:
The emperor reaches the age of 20.

Caliph Al-Mu'tasim, younger brother of the late Caliph. He appointed the
philosopher al-Kindi, the first philosopher writing in Arabic, as tutor to his son. He
also reorganised the military forces and aggressively recruited Turkish troops

from Central Asia, a policy that would rebound on his son: cf 861. Mu'tasim's army
would include up to 80,000 Turks.
Mu'tasim was the last caliph to command the army in person. See 838.

1. Crimea: Cherson is raised to the status of a theme and allocated probably
2,000 soldiers. Cf 835 –
Petronas Kamateros was sent by the emperor Theophilos to Cherson with a
fleet consisting of warships of the imperial fleet and of the Katepan of
Paphlagonia; from there Petronas went on to the river Tanais where his men built
the brick fortress of Sarkel on the Don (far NE of the Black Sea) for the khagan of
the Khazarout [Khazars]. He then returned to Constantinople and advised the
emperor to appoint a military governor for the region. Theophilos then made
Petronas a protospatharios [a senior rank] and appointed him [833] as the first
strategos of Cherson. —Const. Porph., DAI ch.42, 25-54; cited by Obolenksy p.232
and Hendy p.426.

2. Mt Athos:* The earliest known privileges (exemptions) enjoyed by the Athonite

monks dates to AD 833 and, later, the personal interest of the Emperor Basil I.
They were designed to protect them and the nearby Colobos Monastery at
Ierissos against the incursions of state officials and the local population –
including shepherds, who were forbidden to graze their flocks on the peninsula.

(*) In present-day NE Greece. The Chalkidiki peninsula south-east of

Thessalonica has three long finger-like capes or sub-peninsulas. Mt Athos
is near the tip of the top finger, i.e. ESE of Thessaloniki.

The East: The ‘Abbasid army defeated the rebel Kòorramis or Khurramites (*) in
the Zagros mountains between 20 October and 17 November 833. The rebel
leader Nasár with some 14,000 soldiers of Iranian (Persian and Kurdish) origin
crossed the Armenian highlands, entered the Byzantine thema or military
province of Armeniakon and obtained protection and shelter from Theophilos’s
government (as related in Symeon Magister, Georgios Monachos, and Theophanes
Continuatus; W. Treadgold, The Byzantine Revival: 780-842, Stanford, 1988 p.

(*) The Khurramite movement, headed by Babak in Azerbaijan at the

beginning of ninth century, was an anti-Islamic movement that
incorporated the ideas of freedom, independence and universal equality.
The Khurramiyah were followers of a syncretic heresy melding Islam and
Zoroastrianism. Their main tenet was that Abu Muslim al-Khurasani
(governor of Khurasan 748-755, murdered by Caliph al-Mansur) was not
dead but had gone into hiding and would return either at the head of the
Mahdi's army or as the Mahdi himself, ushering in a messianic era.

Sicily: The governor (wali) of the Muslim part of the island since 832, the emir’s
cousin Abu Fihr [Abu Fihr Muhammad ibn Abd-Allah or Muhammad b. Abd Allah b.
al-Aghlab, Abu Fihr], left on an expedition towards Enna (Castrogiovanni) at the
start of 834. After defeating the Byzantines he forced to them to take refuge on
the east coast. In the course of a year he returned to win in another two pitched
After returning to Palermo the governor sent detachments in all directions to
sack and to harass the enemy. On one occasion his men managed to capture a
son of the Byzantine patrikios. The good fortune of Abu Fihr now ended, for in that
same year 835 he was assassinated during a mutiny or revolt by some of its own
men who looked for refuge among the Byzantines (NCMH p.252).
His immediate successor, Ibn Yáqub [Fadl b. Ya’qub], returned to defeat the
Byzantines before Syracuse and Enna and left his position in September before
the arrival of Abúl Aghlab [Ibrahim b. ‘Abd Allah Abu l-Aghlab], a cousin of Ziyadat

Allah (emir of Kairouan, Tunisia).

The arrival of the new governor coincided with appearance in Sicilian waters
of a new fleet just arrived from Constantinople. On 12 September the Greek ships
faced the newly arrived Muslim boats, sinking or capturing many before the rest
could retire out of danger to Palermo. Abúl Aghlab nevertheless counted on at
least answering this attack and dispatched all the ships in his port to face the
imperial fleet. To even things up, he decided on deploying ‘incendiary units’
(meaning fire-ships). In the naval action that followed, the Arabs managed to
decisively defeat the Greeks and capture several ships. In order to take revenge
for the previous defeat, the governor ordered all the prisoners immediately
After restoring the fortune of Muslim arms, Abúl Aghlab ordered an attack
(835) by sea on the Byzantine-controlled island of Pantelleria [SW of Sicily] and a
land attack on the east-coast town of Taormina, where his men took prisoners,
burned harvests and captured much booty (thus Rodriquez; also Ahmad p.11).

The Adriatic, Venice vs the Narentine [pagan Slav] pirates*: In 834 or 835 the
Narentines broke their treaty with Venice and again raided Venetian traders
returning from Benevento, and all of Venice's military attempts to punish the
Marians (as the Narentines were known in Latin) in 839 and 840 failed. Later, they
raided the Venetians more often, together with the Arabs. In 846 the Narentines
broke through to Venice itself and raided its lagoon ‘city’ (village) of Kaorle
(Wikipedia 2010 under ‘Pagania’).

(*) For more on them see below under 887.

By 835:
Increased demand for books: signalled by the earliest known Byzantine
manuscript written in ‘minuscule’ hand – small characters style. Cf 839-41 and

1. Italy: As noted, the island of Pantellaria, between Tunisia and Sicily, was still in
Byzantine hands at the time of a naval battle between forces dispatched by
Ziyadat Allah I, d. 838, against a Byzantine fleet in 835.

2. Naples hires southern Italy’s first Arab mercenaries (Kreutz p.51). Cf 836.

3. Asia Minor: The Paulician leader Sergius, killed 835, was a Greek-speaker from
Galatia. He established his headquarters initially at Cynochorion Neocaesaea
(modern Niksar: north of Sivas), and later at the fortress of Aragoun, given to the
Paulicians by the Emir of Melitene/Malatya (Hamilton and Stoyalov, Christian
Dualist Heresies, North Dakota, 1998, p.20). Sergius, whose Paulician name was
Tychicus, was a great propagator of the ‘heresy’; he boasted that he had spread
his Gospel "from East to West, from North to South" across Anatolia and Cilicia
(Petrus Siculus, "Historia Manichaeorum", p. 45).

835: (1) Midpoint of the Jewish Khazar kingdom in what is now the Ukraine
and Caucasus. See 862.

(2) d. Al-Khwarizmi, greatest of the Muslim astronomers.

Sicily: Saracen incursions in the region of Mt Etna (Dec 835) lead to the capture of
so many prisoners that the price of slaves fell significantly: “sold for almost
nothing” (al-Athir, text in Bat Ye’or 1996: 289; Ahmad p.11).

The West: Greek Fire, or more likely another type of incendiary—“naphtha” [crude
petroleum] thrown using catapults—was being used by the navies of the Tunisian

and Spanish Muslims; it is first mentioned in accounts covering the year 835,
namely by al-Marrakeshi ibn Idhari.
– By about 850, following the loss of Crete and most of Sicily, Byzantine naval
supremacy in the Mediterranean will be broken, never to be quite fully restored
(Browning p.138; Hocker in Gardiner 2004: 92). See next.

The West: The struggle in Sicily continues. In 835 the Arabs re-took the island of
Pantelleria and in 843 captured Messina, an event illustrated in the Madrid
Skylitzes.* Cefalù and Enna fought on for some years before being conquered,
razed to the ground and burnt. Cefalù fell in 858, Enna in 859. –Kleinhenz 2004:

(*) The Arabs, carrying circular shields, are shown camped in large conical
tents before the town’s walls.

Malta: At some time between 835 and 837, the chronicler Ibn al-Athir reports a
Muslim raid on the islands in Sicilian waters in which ‘many towns and fortresses’
were vanquished and rich booty taken. The Maltese islands were presumably
involved but absolute certainty is impossible and Ettore Rossi’s thesis that the
capture of Malta took place at this time is, according to Buhagair (1997: 113)
untenable (Buhagiar 1997).

1. The Balkans: The Bulgarians expand west into the Slavic tribal lands beyond
Serdica (modern Sofia).

2. The Balkans: First mention of a strategos of Thessalonica, in the Vita of

Gregory the Decapolite (831-38) (Stavridou-Zafraka, in Burke and Scott 2000).

3. Italy: The Lombard-Italians (‘Longobards’) of the dukedom of Benevento laid

siege to Byzantine Naples. The Neapolitans asked Ziyadat Allah I, Aghlabid emir of
Tunisia, to come to their aid. Ziyadat sent a fleet that forced the Beneventans to
interrupt the siege. Thus Naples became the first to call in Saracen mercenaries
to the Italian peninsula (Wikipedia 2010, ‘History of Naples’).

4. In Sicily, a Saracen naval unit personally commanded by the former wali Fadl b.
Ya’qub ravaged the Eolian islands and took some mainland fortresses of the
Christians including Tindari (“Tindaro”) which was demolished (Ahmad p.11).
Tindari is on the NE coast of Sicily, immediately south of the Eolian or Aeolian

5. Saracen raiders from Africa strike deep into the Adriatic, attacking Venice.

6. North Africa: The Grand Mosque of Kairouan is built.

Iraq: Al-Mu'tasim abandons Baghdad in favour of a massive new capital at

Samarra (away from the influence of his Turkish officers).

c. 836:
PBW: The dowager empress Theodora’s name is recorded on a seal. The obverse
has a bust of the emperor Theophilus and the inscription Theofilos basileus. The
reverse has the inscription: Theotoke bohth’ei’ Theodorai augousthis [‘Mother of
God protect the empress Theodora’]. The seal is dated during her husband's reign
and after she became augusta in 830, therefore between 830 and 842:
Oikonomides, Dated Seals, p. 57, no. 48A.

Army Beacons

Leo the Mathematician, born ca.790, established, or perhaps upgraded, a line of


fire signals - bonfires on platforms or towers - in the reign of Theophilus, 829-842.

The system was later supposedly dismantled by Michael III, d. 867, because - it is
said - the signals distracted the crowd in the Hippodrome at Constantinople.
The accounts - in later Rhomaniyan sources, including Constantine
Porphyrogenitus - tell the story as part of their polemic against Michael. Therefore
the sources are not entirely sound, and this has led Aschoff to question the
authenticity of the tale of their being dismantled. Toynbee 1973 had made the
same point, noting that the dismantling story is not reported by the chronicle of
Symeon the Logothete. —V. Aschoff, ‘Ueber den byzantinischen Feuertelegraphen
und Leo den Mathematiker’, Deutsches Museum: Abhandlungen und Berichte 48
(1980) 1, p.28. Also P. Pattenden, 'The Byzantine Early Warning System',
Byzantion 53 (1983) 258-299; and Haldon, ed., Constantine Porphyrogenitus,
Three Treatises, 254-256.

In the accounts we have, there was a line of (eight or) nine beacons stretching
from near Tarsus to the capital, designed to warn the city of Arab
disturbances on the eastern frontier. When one psost saw a signal from the post
futehr it it lit its own beacon-bonfire.

Organised beacon systems had been used since distant Antiquity. Leo's particular
invention (if he did invent it) was to link the sending of fire-signals to hours of the
clock. The dispatch of a fire-signal at a given hour was an indicator of differing
kinds of trouble. Drip-clocks or clepsydria were carefully synchronised at each end
to avoid confusion, and ensure clarity. A signal origanted at the Arab frontier at
two o'clock announced that hostilities had begun, and a three o'clock dispatch
signified a conflagration.
William Ramsay and others since have mapped out the geography of the route
the signals would take, and have isolated the probable mountains involved in the
relay. The distances between the stations vary from c.65 miles [100 km] in
southern Anatolia to c.30 [up to 50 km] miles in the vicinity of Constantinople.
Pattenden also cites evidence from late 10th C Palestine and medieval Greece
(p.270), although the distances covered there were much less: Ramsay cited by P.
Pattenden, 'The Byzantine Early Warning System', Byzantion 53 (1983) 258-299.
If reliable, the account of the signals suggests that it was possible to relay
messages over very long distances and difficult terrain, and that a system could
be developed for sending more than one message.

Using the Greek forms, Toynbee, 1973: 299, presents the list of stations thus: 1:
Loulon; 2: Mt Arghaios; 3: Mt Samos or Isamos; 4: the kastron Aiyilon (Agilon); 5:
Mt Mamas [in another source, no 5 is the Mysian Mt Olympus near Bursa]; 6: Mt
Kyrizos or Kirkos; 7: Mt Mokilos or Moukilos above Pylai [modern Ciftlikoy, close to
Yalova] on the south shore of the Gulf of Izmit (Nicomedia); 8: Mt Saint Afxendios
[sic]; and 9: Constantinople: the Heliakos (sun-dial) ton Pharon in the palace.

Gibbon, citing the continuator of Theophanes (l. iv. p. 122, 123) names the
successive stations as:

i. The castle of Lulum, Gk Loulon: Faustinopolis or Halala, Arabic Lu’lu’a or

Sakaliba, north of the Cilician Gates, south of Tyana. Or in modern terms: SW of
Nigde, east of Eregli.

ii. Mount Arghaios/Argaeus in Cappadocia: possibly modern Mt Erciyas Dagi or

Erjish Dagh, the high volcano near Kayseri and the highest peak in Asia Minor.
Immediately south of Kayseri, its high point is 3,917 metres or about 12,000 ft.
Others say Argaeus is Keçikalesi or al-Agrab, a peak in the range called Hasan
Dagi, about halfway between modern Nigde and Aksaray (Hild-Restle,
Kappadokien, 135-37). The Hasan Dag range, high point 3,268 metres, near
Aksaray, is much nearer Tuz Golu than Kayseri.

The latter conclusion originates with Ramsay, cited by J B Bury (History of the
East Roman Empire from the Fall of Irene 1912) and by P.Pattenden, loc.cit.. Bury

says: “not the Argaios which looks down on Caesarea, but another mountain,
south-east of Lake Tatta.”

iii. Isamus or Mt Samos: perhaps Erciyes Dagh [3,918 metres], which we have
already noted as the peak immediately s. of Caesarea, and well east of Lake
Tatta/Tuz Golu/Lake Tuz. Bury and Ramsay, however, say Isamus was 30 miles
[50 km] NW of Lake Tatta. In other words: south of Ankara.*
It is a long way from Tuz Golu to Eskisehir (see next). Thus we would expect
Isamus to have been at the top (north) of Tuz Golu or to its east.

(*) As the crow flies, and light travels, the midpoint between Tarsus and
Constantinople was/is west of Tuz Golu.

iv. Aegilus between Troknades or Trocmades and modern Kaymaz: 38 km SE of

Dorylaion/Eskisehir. The headwaters of the great Sakarya River rise near Kaymaz.

v. The hill of Mamas: NW of Dorylaion/Eskisehir, so presumably near modern

Bilecik. But Bury, following Ramsay, says it was “a hill in the south-eastern skirts
of Mount Olympus [Uludag]”, i.e. further west, on the Bursa side of Inegol, where
there are several peaks of around 2,500 metres.

vi. Cyrisus or Kyrizos: perhaps Katerli Dagh.

vii. Mocilus: according to Ramsay this was our Samanli Dagh: highpoint 1,119
metres, N of Lake Ascanius, between Nicaea and Nicomedia, near modern Yalova.

viii. The hill of Auxentius, near Chalcedon in western Bithynia, opposite or rather a
little SE of Constantinople; and

ix. The sun-dial of the Pharus of the great palace. “He (the Continuator) affirms
that the news were (sic) transmitted in ‘an indivisible moment of time’ ” (Gibbon).

In the 9th century, from Crete to Cyprus and Mesopotamia, the Rhomaioi
[Byzantines] went on the offensive. For a long time, however, their advances were
met by Arab re-conquests (AD 837-42, 927, 937), and there were more than a few
debacles: e.g. Theophilus’ defeat by Mutasim in the 838, and reverses in Sicily.

836-892: The capital of the Caliphate was at Samarra, on the Tigris

upstream from Baghdad.


CONSTANTINE THE GREAT, founder of Constantinople.

1. Mesopotamia: Romanic campaign against the Muslims in the East. Dating
according to SL: Theophilus and Manuel take Zapetra and Samosata*, March-April
837; and Theophilus celebrates a triumph in late spring 837.

(*) Samosata, on the upper Euphrates, was the intersection point of

several military roads; Zapetra lay NW of Samosata.

Responding to an appeal from Babek, the Khurramite or Khurramiyya (*) (Iranian)

leader, Theophilus and his general Manuel march east with an army that included
the “Persian turma” (the corps of Khurramites already in Rhomaniyan service).
Theophilus’s expeditionary force is said to have numbered 70,000 counting
both Neo-Romans and Khurramites, “probably more than any other expedition
since Heraclius’ time” (Treadgold, State 1997: 440). Norwich quotes Michael the
Syrian as estimating the expeditionary force at 50,000 men, which is rather more

plausible. If 36,000 were Byzantines, this represented about one-third of entire

enrolled land forces of the empire. This assumes that 14,000 of the 50,000 were
Khurramites. Cf 863: battle of Poson.
The imperial army takes the Abbasid frontier post at Zapetra and then the
fortress-town of Samosata on the Upper Euphrates: March-April 837. Zapetera,
Zibatra or Sozopetra was Gibbon’s “obscure town”, important as the birthplace of
the reigning caliph Mutasim. Gibbon: “Sozopetra was levelled with the ground, the
Syrian prisoners were marked or mutilated with ignominious cruelty, and a
thousand female captives were forced away from the adjacent territory.”
Theophilos then plundered Muslim-ruled southern Armenia so that
Theodosiopolis (Erzerum: NW of Lake Van) and other towns paid tribute to avert
further destruction. Having obtained the nominal submission of Melitene, the
emperor and his army returned to Byzantium (Treadgold, 1988, p. 440, note 401).
As noted below, further Khurramites now came over to the Byzantine side.

(*) Adherents of an Iranian anti-Arab religious and political movement which

appeared in Azerbaijan and Iran in 814. The Khurramites were influenced by
Shiite doctrines, but with their roots in a pre-Islamic Persian religious movement.
Their leader Babak incited his followers to hate the Arabs and rise in rebellion
against the caliphal regime. The Khurramites proclaimed the breakup and
redistribution of all the great estates and the abolition of Islam. In 816 they began
making attacks on Muslim forces in Iran and Iraq.

When the Neo-Romans under the emperor Theophilos threatened to put Melitene
to the torch and carry the inhabitants away into captivity, as they had already
done at Zubatra (Sozopetra), Amr or Umar successfully delayed the emperor with
gifts and fine words until the approach of an Arab army forced the Romans
(Byzantines) to withdraw (PBW, citing the Chron. 1234, §210). This event probably
took place in 837; see Treadgold, Revival, pp. 293-294, with n. 401.

In September 837, a second wave of about 16,000 Khòorramis from Ba’bak's

defeated army crossed into Rhomaniyan territory. These fighters also converted
to Christianity (Theophanes Continuatus, p. 124) and were incorporated into the
Persian turma so that it now comprised around 30,000 experienced soldiers
(Genesios and Theophanes Continuatus, cited by Venetis 2005).

The emperor holds a further triumph following his successes in the East. It
followed much the same style as that of 831, except that Theophilus was
welcomed by all the city's children bearing wreaths. It was the emperor who led
the first chariot race - something unimaginable for an ancient Roman ruler - and
of course he won it (McCormick p.150).

2. The Danube: First ever hostile encounter between the pagan Magyars, the
future Hungarians, and East-Romans, at the mouth of the Danube River (Curta
2006: 123). The Magyars were still based in what we know today as the 'South
Russian steppe', having only just begun their migration to the west. Cf 894.

3. Sicily: (3a:) The Saracen governor Abu-l-Aghlab (Ibrahim) sends an expedition

against the key Byzantine fortress at Castrogiovanni (Enna*). The Muslims
entered the residential sector of the town and took “enormous” booty but could
not take the citadel. A truce was arrived at and the Saracens returned to Palermo
(Ahmad p.11).

(*) Classical Henna, located at the dead centre-point of the island. At 1,196
ft or 949 m, the flat-topped mountain towers over the surrounding region.
Romance-speaking Sicilians in the early medieval period called it ‘Fortress
Enna’ or Castro-Janni, ‘Janni’ being a version of ‘Henna’. The Arabic version
was Qasir-Ianni. This was later Latinised as Castrogiovanni or
Castrugiuvanni (‘fortress of John’), although etymologically it had no
derivation from Ioannes/John. The name Enna was restored in the 1920s.

(3b:) The Armenian Alexios Mousele, the emperor’s son-law [or intended brother-
in-law: possibly the betrothal did not proceed to marriage], is (briefly) appointed
strategos (“stratelates and dux”) of Sicily. This must be seen as a token of the
importance attached to Sicily. It is said that he colluded with the Saracens, but
one may think it more probable that he did not relish being ‘exiled’ so far from the
centre of power and engineered his own recall. Theophanes Continuatus recorded
that he was beaten and imprisoned, and later retired to Chrysopolis, where he
founded a monastery.

4. Italy: First appeance of Arabs on the mainland. At the request of the ‘Greco-
Italian’* duke Andreas (Andrew) of Naples, a force of Arabs from (western) Sicily,
Arabic Siqilliyyah, relieved the siege of Naples by Sikard, the Lombard-Italian
Duke of Benevento. See 838.

(*) Although its ruling culture and institutions were ‘Greek’, Naples should be seen
as an independent power. It was minting a coinage lacking any reference to the
Basileus (Kreutz p.16). Ravenna had fallen to the northern Lombards in 751,
leaving Calabria as the nearest seat of Byzantine power. Not surprisingly, then,
the duke of Naples had preferred since 763 to recognize the pope as his suzerain.
Cf 841: fall of Reggio di Calabria.

The East: The caliph, al-Mutasim, sends (837) his army to Adharbayjan
(Azerbaijan) under the Iranian general Afshin [Afshin Khaydar’ b. Qa’wus, d. 841]
in a further attempt to put down the 20-year rebellion of the Khurramiyya
(Khurramites) led by Babak. Afshin captures Babak and he is killed (January 838).
In September 837, as we have seen, a second wave of about 16,000 Kòorramis
(Khurramites) from Ba’bak's defeated army crossed, presumably via Armenia, into
Romanian (‘Byzantine’) territory (Treadgold 1997: 441). According to Theophanes
Continuatus and Genesios, these fighters too converted to Christianity and were
incorporated into the Persian turma so that it now comprised around “30,000”
experienced soldiers.
Despite this considerable reinforcement, on 21 July 838 Theophilos's army was
defeated in the battle of Danzimon (Anzen) in NE Anatolia by a smaller ‘Abbasid
army of ca. 30,000 fighters under Afshin. - See discussion below under 838.

John VII Grammatikos, ‘the Grammarian’, last iconoclast patriarch. Of Armenian
descent. He had been Theophilus’s tutor, and his brother Arsaber was married to
a sister of the iconodule Empress Theodora. The latter deposed him in 843.
In 830 (see there), while seving as synkellos—deputy patriarch—John had led an
ostentatious embassy to Baghdad.

By 838:
The West: The Aghlabids of North Africa had launched an extensive corsair fleet,
making them masters of the central Mediterranean Sea and enabling them to
harry the coasts of southern Italy, Sardinia, Corsica and even that of the Maritime
Alps. See next.

1. The West: Theophilus sends an expedition to Sicily against the Muslims. The
Tunisians have already established a foothold on the Italian mainland. Cf 840,
In the spring of 838 (Ahmad p.11 prefers 837), after a long period in which the
Muslim attacks in Sicily went unanswered, the government of Constantinople sent
an answer to Sicily in the form of an expedition led by the son-in-law of the
emperor and presumptive heir, the caesar Mosele [Alexios Mousele] (Treadgold

1997: 441-42) After disembarking on the north coast, the expedition forced the
Arabs to leave the site of Cephaledio, today’s Cefalù, the town to the east of
In the following months Mosele obtained several new victories although they
were not very significant; and soon the impetus of the offensive stagnated and
the arrival of Arab reinforcements threatened to undo its gains. Mosele was
accused by some Sicilians of negotiating with the Arabs and conspiring against
the emperor. As a result, Theophilos ordered him to return to Constantinople. See
840s: Muslim attacks on Taranto, Brindisi and Bari.

c. 838: St Elia of Castrogiovanni, fl. mid-9th Century:

A native of Castrogiovanni (Enna) in central Sicily. In 837 while still a minor
[aged about eight], he fled with his parents from the Saracens who were attacking
Sicily (Amari, Musulmani, vol 1 p.512). They took refuge in the citadel of St Mary
(Castel di Santa Maria) [unlocated] but were ultimately taken captive. He was
fortunate enough on this occasion to be ransomed in North Africa by some
Christian mercenaries in the service of the Saracens. While sailing from Africa, his
ship was met by a Byzantine warship to which he transferred. Soon (ca. 838), he
was able to return home and reunite with his family. Eventually he had the
misfortune to again be taken captive by the Saracens. Taken back to North Africa,
he was sold as a slave to a fellow-Christian. Later, he was sold to a wealthy land
owner who grew to respect him as a holy man. Freed at last, he went on a
pilgrimage to Jerusalem in ca. 850, remaining there for three years.

2. Arabs sack Marseilles; and settle in s. Italy (839).

3. Asia Minor: Great counter-invasion by Mutasim. Against the Byzantines, al-

Mu'tasim personally led one of the largest Muslim armies ever assembled, and
won battles at the Halys River, Angora, and Amorium (SW of Ankara). The
Khurramite Kurds under Theophobos-Nasr again fought on the empire’s side. Al-
Mutasim was ready to take Constantinople, but his plan fell apart when a storm
destroyed the Arab fleet before it got there (839). Theophilus now took the
offensive, and the two sides agreed to peace after the Muslims were pushed back
to the prewar frontier (841).

Mutasim’s Invasion of 838

Two very large Arab armies – “50,000 and 30,000”: the former marched initially in
two columns -, with many Turkish horse-archers, enter Cappadocia. Mu’tasim's
forces were supported, it is said, by 50,000 camels and 20,000 mules (*) (unlike in
Byzantium, carts and other wheeled vehicles were little used in the Islamic world).
Omar or Amr of Melitene accompanied the son of the caliph with an army of
Turks and Armenians on an invasion of the Roman empire. At a site called Anzen,
near Dazemon, they met and defeated a Roman army under the emperor
Theophilos; their mission was to test the strength of the East Romans before an
attack was made by the caliph himself on Amorion: PBW, citing Theoph. Cont. III
31 (pp. 126-128), cf. Zon. XV 29. 11.

(*) These figures appear credible. Haldon, in Pryor ed. 2006: 158, has
calculated, using known consumption and carrying levels, that some 9,000
mules were needed to carry provisions (human food, plus grain and hay for
horses) for an army of 10,000 men (composed of 6,000 infantry and 4,000
cavalry). The provisions will last for 24 days, longer if foraging is allowed
for. Applying an average marching rate, this was enough only for a return
journey of 240 km out and 240 km back. (Cf 500 km to the centre of Neo-
Roman Anatolia from Muslim Cilicia.) As noted, however, foraging and also
confiscations or food tribute would have supplemented whatever the
camels and mules were able to carry.

Arab victories: Having defeated the Byzantines at Anzen, they press west and
capture Amorium, SW of Ankara, the Basileus’s birthplace and possibly the largest

East Roman town in Asia Minor. As many as ‘35,000’ civilians and soldiers were
killed, most of them rural refugees from the wider region who had retreated into
the fortress-town.
The size of Amorion must have been substantial. Michael Syrus, in relating the
capture of the town by the Arabs in 838, writes: "The monasteries and nunneries
were so numerous that more than 1,000 virgins [i.e. nuns], not to speak of those
who were massacred, were led away into captivity." —Michael Syrus, Chronique
de Michael le Syrien, Patriarche Jacobite d'Antioche (1166-1199), ed. and trans. J.-
B. Chabot, 3: Paris, 1905, p.100.

In the prelude, Theophilus was defeated in a bloody battle at Dazimon or Anzen*,

in NE Asia Minor in July 838. His competent general, the Armenian Manuel, was
killed and the Rhomaniyan army retreated NW to nearby Amasya, Gk: Amaseia.
Then, after an energetic resistance of 55 days, Amorion fell into Al-Mutassem's
hands through treachery on 23 September 838.
Dating according to Symeon the Logothete; also Mas’udi IV, 358-59: Arabs
defeat Theophilus and kill general Manuel at Anzen on 22 July 838; and the Caliph
sacks Amorium 12 August 838. Other sources prefer September.

(*) Mod. Dazmama, the fortress near Tokat, NW of Sivas – inland from the
mid-north coast of Asia Minor. Anzen was the name of a hill on the
battlefield. Amasya-Tokat-Sivas lie on a notional line NW-SE. Amasia and
Dazimon gave their names to the westernmost turmai (districts) of the
Armeniac theme.

The Rhomaniyans probably came to realise the usefulness of the trebuchet – the
rope-pull or beam-sling traction trebuchet* - in field operations after their defeat
in the battle of Anzen in AH 223, AD 838. In this battle, the Byzantine army under
Emperor Theophilus faced Abbasid forces under a caliphâl general, Afshin. On the
afternoon of 22 July, Turkish archers isolated and surrounded the emperor and a
band of 2,000 Khurramite (Persians and Kurds) soldier-refugees originally from al-
Jibaal (modern Luristan). They were closing in for the kill when a rainstorm
rendered the Turks’ bows useless. The Muslims quickly brought up traction
trebuchets and hurled stones on the Romanic forces**, which then dispersed in
panic (Chronique de Michel le Syrien, ed. and trans. J.-B. Chabot, 4 vols. [Paris,
1905], 3:95, 4:535; Bar Hebraeus, Chronography, ed. Bedjan, 149; W. Treadgold,
The Byzantine Revival, 780- 842, Stanford, 1988, 300).

(*) Five or more men facing away from the target pull down on short ropes
attached the front end of the beam, which pivot-launches the back end of
the beam: illustration in Dawson 2007b. The counter-weight trebuchet
appeared later – in the 1100s.

(**) It is thought that early trebuchets were an anti-personnel weapon, not

being powerful enough to batter through walls (see E McGeer, 1995,
‘Byzantine Siege Warfare in Theory and Practice’, in I Corfis and M Wolfe,
eds, The Medieval City under Siege).

Gibbon: “When the armies drew near, the front of the Mahometan line appeared
to a Roman eye more closely planted with spears and javelins; but the event of
the action was not glorious on either side to the national troops. The Arabs were
[initially] broken, but it was by the swords of 30,000 Persians [Khurramites: see
below under 839-40], who had obtained service and settlement in the Byzantine
empire. The Greeks were repulsed and vanquished, but it was by the arrows of
the Turkish cavalry; and had not their bowstrings been damped and relaxed by
the evening rain, very few of the Christians could have escaped with the emperor
from the field of battle.”
After a stout resistance of 55 days, Amorium fell into al-Mu'tasim's hands
through treachery on 23 Sept 838. Some 30,000 of the inhabitants were slain, the
rest sold as slaves, and the city razed to the ground.

Treadgold Army 1995: 210 comments that this campaign showed Theophilus that,
though the Romanian (‘Byzantine’) army might defeat Slavs and Bulgarians and
Arab raiding parties, it was still unable to withstand a regular Arab army in the
Amorium was never to recover from its sack in 838. In the next century it was
replaced as the major military centre of Anatolia by Cappadocian Caesarea.
It is said that al-Mu'tasim’s troops found in Ankyra, Amorium and other centres
in Asia Minor ancient Greek medical books that subsequently were translated into
Arabic. That they were translated is certain; whether they were discovered on this
campaign may be doubted.

John Haldon’s Account of the Battle of Anzen, near Dazimon, 838 (Haldon
2001: 78 ff)

A large division of Turkish horse-archers played a prominent role in the Caliph’s

army. Haldon argues that by 838 the archers in the Byzantine army were either
very few or of poor quality. Cf 904: Slavic archers defend Greek Thessalonica.
Haldon’s claim may be contradicted by the Taktika of Leo VI, ca. 900, in which
the use of the bow, by Byzantine foot-archers and horse-archers alike, is
highlighted. On the other hand, Leo’s insistence that every East-Roman boy
should learn to shoot the bow could be read as implying that many or most did
not. This too may be indicated by his order that, in the provinces, every house, or
at least every soldier’s house, was to keep one bow and 40 arrows.

In June 838 Mu’tasim began assembling an expedition to capture Ankyra (modern

Ankara) and Theophilos’s birthplace, Amorion, in west-central Asia Minor. Hearing
of this, Theophilos responded by leading out a force comprised of the Tagmata
and thematic troops from Thrace and Macedonia.* Also in his expedition were
Theophobos’ Kurdish (Khurramite) defectors.

(*) The Tagmata were fulltime soldiers serving in elite regiments based in
or near Constantinople, while the thematic troops from the provinces were
semi-professionals who managed their farms when not on campaign.

At Dorylaion the Emperor divided his forces, one part being sent to reinforce the
garrison of Amorion, while he himself took most of his army, perhaps 25,000 men,
towards Caesarea in Cappadocia, aiming to block the route from the Cilician Gates
to Ankyra.
The Muslims set out meanwhile in mid June in three columns. One column –
probably fewer than 20,000 men under Afshin - marched to Malatya and then
pushed NW into the Byzantine Armeniac theme. This column included perhaps
10,000 Turkish horse-archers, who now make their first significant appearance on
the stage of history. The second and third columns advanced through Cilicia and
along the main road towards Ankyra. The plan was for the three columns to rejoin
there before pushing on (which is to say: SE) to Amorion.
Afshin’s column advanced as far as the Byzantine aplekton (fortress, storage
base and assembly point) at Dazimon, which is modern Dazmana, between Tokat
and Amasya. That is to say: NW of Sebaseia/Sivas. Theophilos was camped on the
Halys River near Caeasaraea when he heard of this. Leaving a detachment to
guard the road to Ankyra, he took most of his remaining forces, more than 20,000
men, north-eastwards against Afshin. The latter’s force was sighted on 21 July.
The Byzantines formed up on the plain of Dazimon near a hill that bore the name
Anzen. It served as an observation point.
The Byzantines attacked at dawn on 22 July. They were immediately successful
on one wing, driving Afshin’s forces from their positions and inflicting some 3,000
casualties. Meanwhile Theophilos moved to strengthen his other wing by
personally leading across 2,000 of the Tagmata and his Kurds. As he moved
across, the Muslims made a powerful counter-charge against the Byzantine wing
that had already attacked. The missile-fire of the Turkish horse-archers brought
the enemy advance to a halt. And now most of the Byzantines no longer had the
emperor’s standard in their sight. They assumed he had fallen. Not realising he

had simply moved to the other wing, they began to waver. The Byzantine battle-
line soon dissolved in the face of continued fire from the enemy horse-archers.
Some Byzantine units escaped west, others escaped to the north, while others
were simply annihilated. Theophilos himself, with his 2,000 Tagmata and Kurds,
was able ro reach the hill of Anzen. The sudden appearance of a rainstorm left the
Muslim horse-archers with useless bows, and the imperialists were able to take up
a strong defensive position on the hill.
Afshin now ordered siege catapaults (traction trebuchets) to brought from his
baggage train to bombard the emperor’s position. Deciding his duty was to
escape, the emperor broke through the Muslim lines with a small band, leaving
the rest to their fate.
Proceeding north, Theophilos’s band joined up with a number of Byzantine units
that had managed to reach the region of Chiliokomon near Amaseia.
Subsequently he came upon the detachment he had left to cover the road to
Ankyra; this corps had pulled back to the NW. Ankyra meanwhile was abandoned
by its population.
Theophilos sent some units to Amorion to reinforce it, while he himself
proceeded towards the capital to kill the rumours there that he was dead. The
first Muslim force reached an empty Ankyra on 27 July when Theophilos was still
at Dorylaion. After sacking Ankya, the Muslim army moved on to besiege the
fortress-city of Amorion at the beginning of August. The Arabs and Turks took it
after two weeks, sacked it and slaughtered the Byzantine garrison. This was a
great blow to imperial prestige.
But this was as far as Mu’tasim’s armies went, as the Caliph soon withdrew
them from Asia Minor to deal with a rebellion at home.

c. 838?:
The young Photius, aged about 28, a future patriarch, compiles his famous
Myriobiblon or Bibliotheca, an annotated list of, and excerpts from, 279 books he
has read.
The date is disputed. Against the traditional date of 855 or possibly 845,
Francois Halkin and Cyril Mango have argued for a date after 875, and Helene
Ahrweiler and Paul Lemerle have argued for 838.
Photius made the first draft of his encyclopaedic "Myriobiblion" probably while
he was still a young man. At an early age also, he began to teach grammar,
philosophy and theology in his own house to a steadily increasing number of
About 838, aged about 28, he was sent on an embassy "to the Assyrians", as
he notes in the preface to the "Myrobiblion", i.e., apparently to the Khalif at
Baghdad or Samarra. He was made patriarch of Constantinople in 858.

From 838:
Italy: Arab forces appear for the first time on the Italian peninsula, briefly
occupying Lombardic Brindisi – in modern Puglia - in 838. Having burnt the town,
they returned to Sicily (Ahmad p.18; Kreutz p.25). Rome will be attacked in 846.
Bari will become the centre of a short-lived emirate, 847–71.

Sicilian Arabs sacked and destroyed Brindisi* in 838; then they occupied
Lombardic Taranto in c. 840 [probably 839: see below] and Lombardic (ex-
Byzantine) Bari* in 841 (or late 840). In 842 they began to attack the west coast
of Italy (Kreutz p.25). Cf 841-42: raids into the upper Adriatic.

(*) Bari is on the lower ‘calf’ or top of the outer ‘heel’ of Italy, with Brindisi
lower down on the heel proper. Taranto is on the inner side of the heel, at
the top the Gulf of Taranto.
There three port-towns were (are) nodal poinst on the anicnt highway
system. The Appia Traiana, the upper leg of the Appian Way, from Bari,

and the Via Appia proper from Brindisi via Taranto converge at Benevento.
Potentially, therefore, the Arabs could control the whole south if they took
Benevento and could at least dominate the south by holding Bari, Brindisi
and Taranto.

1. Sicily: The death of the Emir Ziyadat’allah (10 June 838) and consequent
uncertainty as to affairs in Sicily caused military operations to be suspended for
some months; but in 839 his successor Abu’l Iqal [Al-Aghlab b. Ibrahim, Abu Iqal*]
sent ships which raided the Romanic districts of the island, and in 840
Caltabellotta, Platani, Corleone, and Sutera – all in the central-west - were forced
to pay tribute (Bury p.304). Cf below under 840: loss of Taranto.

(*) In the period 838-51, Muslim Sicily was ruled directly from Ifriqiya, and
there was no resident emir.

2. Apulia/Puglia: As noted, in 838 Arabs from North Africa sacked Brindisi. In 840
and 841 they plundered Taranto and Bari - both former Byzantine ports now
under Lombard-Italian rule (Whittow p.306). Cameron 2009: 184 dates the loss of
Taranto to 839. This is probably correct, as we know definitely that by Feb-Mar
1840 an Arab fleet or a flotilla was already established at Taranto (al-Athir and
Chron. Ven., cited by McCormick 2001: 919, note 121). Evidently the Arabs did
not capture Bari until after 841.

As will be seen in the next few entries, this was period in which Byzantium
suffered many reverses. Peace envoys were sent to the caliph in Samarra and the
anti-caliph in Spanish Cordoba, while envoys seeking alliances were sent to
Francia and Venice. Hostilities with Bulgaria were avoided.

838-69: Provence: In 838 and 842 Saracens raided Marseille. In 842 and
850 they will raid Arles. In 869 they will establish a base in the Camargue
(the Rhone delta in Provence).

c. 839:
The N Aegean: The Andalusi “pirates” (slavers) based on ex-imperial Crete
inflicted a major defeat on a Rhomaniyan fleet off Thasos. Pryor & Jeffreys p.385
list this as one of the more disastrous defeats suffered by the imperial navy.
The Muslim raiders dedicated themselves to seeking slaves*, booty, tribute and
ransom. They never tried to occupy Rhodes or Cyprus, although they did occupy
some lesser Byzantine islands periodically: Aigina, Kos, Kythera and Karpathos.
Naxos paid tribute in order to avoid being occupied (Dromon p.47).

(*) Rotman pp.74-75 argues that Byzantine taxes on the Jewish slave-traders in
the early 800s led to the latter using routes that avoided the Byzantine customs
posts [see 846 below]. This raised the price of slaves in the Muslim East and
Africa, which in turn made Arab piracy profitable. There were also a few, albeit
fewer, Byzantine pirates who raided Syria, Palestine and Egypt to take captives.
In the 800s the tax on an imported slave passing through the empire was two
nomismata, equivalent to 20% of the value of a slave sold in the markets of
Constantinople (Rotman p.199: conceivably the vale of a slave sold in the Muslim
East was higher: it cost up to 30 nom. to ransom an adult male Byzantine from
the Arabs).

1. Romanic/Byzantine embassy to request aid from the Franks. Also to Venice,
which is treated as an independent entity for the first time (Norwich p.49). Cf
below, 839-40.

The annals of Saint Bertan relate that in 839, the same year as the first
appearance of the Rhos, Rus’ or Varangians (Norse-Russians) in Constantinople,
the German Emperor Hludwig II’s (Louis, Lewis or Ludovicus) II court in Ingelheim
on the Rhine was visited by a delegation from the Byzantine emperor. In this
delegation there were two men who called themselves Rhos (Rhos vocari
dicebant). Hludwig (Louis) enquired about their origins and learnt that they were
people of Swedish descent (comperit eos gentis esse Sueonum: ‘he learns them
to be – they are - of the people or nation of the Swedes’) but evidently living in
what is now north Russia (Duczko 2004).

2. Italy: The Amalfitans, exploiting internal warring factions within the

Longobard/Latin court at Benevento, succeeded in sacking the nearby
Beneventan ‘city’ [read: fortified village] of Salerno: on the coast east of Amalfi. In
September 839 they founded an independent republic, or rather they began
acting as an autonomous political entity, no longer recognising Neapolitan
suzerainty. Salerno likewise would break free from Benevento in 846 or 849
(Kreutz p.24).
Even after her "declaration of independence" in 839, however, Amalfi
continued to recognize at least nominal Byzantine suzerainity. Thus we can say
that it was ‘independent within the empire’ (ODB I: 73). Amalfitan political leaders
and members of the nobility from the ninth through the eleventh centuries were
often the recipients of titles or dignities bestowed by the Romanian (‘Byzantine’)
emperor, among which that of patrikios appears to have ranked highest.
The birth of the State of Amalfi was partly due to the breakup of the two main
political states of that time, the ex-Greek/Rhomaniyan Dukedom of Naples and
the Latin/Longobard Principality of Benevento.
In the same year (or rather in 840: see there) Salerno separated from
Benevento, becoming an independent Lombard (Latin) duchy under Sicone II
(839-851). (Cf 935: Capua.)

1. Italy: Sicilian Arabs seize Taranto in S Italy (c.840) and repulse a Venetian fleet
sent by Constantinople to recover it. The town will stay in Arab hands until 880.
Theophilus, unable to withdraw forces from the East, in 839 asked help of the
Venetians and even of the Franks and of the Emir of Spain to dislodge the strong
Arab force that was occupying Taranto. An imperial legate arived at Venice in
Feb/March 840. The doge Pietro Tradonico was conferred the title Spatharius by
the Patriarch of Constantinople in in return for promising to help defend
Byzantium against the Aghlabi Saracens from North Africa who had invaded
Byzantine Apulia. The doge agreed to help, and in March 840 60 Venetian ships,
assisted by a Byzantine flotilla, attacked the Arab fleet off Taranto, but they were
nearly all taken and the crews massacred (Nicol 1992: 27; McCormick 2001: 919).
See 840.

2. NE Asia Minor: Theophilus leads an army against Nasr (future Christian name
Theophobos), the Kurdish pretender-emperor installed by the Muslims at Sinope
on the north coast of Asia Minor.

The pretender’s 30,000 Persian (“Khurramite”) troops defected and were inducted
into the Imperial army. Theophobos resumed his career as an imperial officer.
The induction of the Khurramites and their dispersal across several themes was
part of Theophilus’s re-organisation of his armed forces: see details below after
841-42. Especially important was a significant pay rise.

Treadgold (Army p.178) estimates that the lands held by the tagmatic and
thematic troops and other military holdings may have made up around a quarter
of the empire's cultivated area. The warehouse system for selling arms and
uniforms seems not to have survived long after 840, as enough soldiers npw

gained enough money to do without it (p.185).

According to the Greek chroniclers Theophanes Continuatus and Genesios, in the

summer of 839, the Khurramite general Nasár-Theophobos negotiated in secret
with The emperor and secured full amnesty for the Kòorramis (“Khurramite”).
Although the emperor reorganised them into a Persian turma, dispersing units of
2,000 fighters to several districts (Rosser, p. 271; Treadgold, 1995, pp. 32, 69), he
assigned the command of some units again to Nasár-Theophobos who in turn
continued serving as a leading general of the emperor's army.
The empire’s total land forces enrolled now reached at least 120,000. Haldon
notes that Treadgold is inclined to give credence to the “controversial” testimony
of the Islamic geographer al-Jarmi (fl. 845: cited by Mas’udi), but that is not the
only basis for Treadgold’s conclusions that the army consisted of 155,000 soldiers
by the mid-ninth century, rising to 283,000 by 1025 (Treadgold, Army 1995: 161-
63). For a skeptical view of these numbers, see Whittow pp.190-192; he proposes
(p.192) a total army enrolment of as few as 30,000 ….

The emperor sends grand embassies to Saracen Samarra (which had superseded
Baghdad), Muslim Cordoba (839-40), Christian Venice (840) and Frankish Aachen
(842) (NCMH 1995: 374; mcCormick 2001: 920).
For the embassy to Samarra, Theophilus supplied John the Grammarian with
400 “pounds" (Roman litrae) (*) of gold, i.e. as many as 28,800 nomismata, to
demonstrate the empire's largesse (Baynes p.74).
In the period to 907, several leading scholars were dispatched on embassies to
the Abbasid court: John the Grammarian, St Cyril (Constantine), Photius and Leo
Choirosphaktes, suggesting that a further purpose was to show the Muslims that
the wisdom of the Greeks was still, contrary to rumour, alive and well in Christian
lands (El Cheik 2004: 103).

(*) A litra in theory weighed 328 gms; in practice more like 320 gms, i.e.
11 oz or about two-thirds of a present-day pound (Entwhistle. ‘Byzantine
weights’, in Laiou ed., 2002: 611). A nomisma weighed 4.5 to 4.4 gms. Cf
weight of an Austalian 10-cent coin: 5.6 gms.

Brown 1997: 243 notes that by 840 a degree of wealth and leisure had returned
to the elites of Constantinople after the economic low-point of the previous
century. Photius, the future intellectual scholar-patriarch, was at this time aged
about 20.

1. Outer Macedonia and Illyria: Having expanded westwards, the Bulgarians
engage in war with the Serbians.

2. Peninsular Italy: According to the Muslim sources, the first serious Arab
operation against Calabria took place in AH 225, AD 839-40.
With the capture of hitherto Christian Messina in AH 228, AD 842-3, it became
easier for the Muslims of Sicily to undertake devastating raids and lengthy sieges,
by means of which they were able to keep the Calabrian territory under continual
threat from their incursions. See next: Bari.

In Calabria the Arabs will remain in control of the western coastal fortress-towns
of Tropea and Amantea (from Arabic Al Mantiah; called Nepezia in Latin) and also
St Severina: in the east near Crotone from 839 to 885; and they will even capture
Cosenza in north-central Calabria for brief periods (Italian Wikipedia, 2009, under
‘Storia della Calabria’).


Italy: Civil war in the Lombard duchy of Benevento: the Tunisian Arabs intervene:
see 840/42.
In 840 or 841 Radelchis, the Longobard duke of Benevento, asked help from
the Arabs to fight against his rival Siconulf of Salerno. The Arabs intervened and
they took advantage by conquering (ca. 839-842) Taranto and Beneventan
Bari. These were the two main ports of Apulia. As noted earlier, the Tunisians
repelled a Venetian fleet that the emperor summoned to Taranto’s aid.

Italy: The ‘post-Byzantine’* governor of Naples appoints (c.839) a certain
Constantine as the first Hypatus or “consul” of Gaeta, the port-town between
Rome and Naples (Skinner 1995). He was the son of Count Anatolius, a Byzantine
Greek noble. Constantine soon raised his son Marinus I to share rule with him with
the title of comes (“count”). A separate bishopric was established in 846. (Later in
the 800s Gaeta will break free from Neapolitan rule, while remaining nominally
part of the empire.) Cf 840: Salerno.

(*) Ravenna had fallen to the northern Lombards in 751, leaving Calabria
as the nearest seat of Byzantine power. Not surprisingly, then, the duke of
Naples had preferred since 763 to recognize the pope as his suzerain.


In 840 the empire took in eastern Sicily, most of Calabria, the base of the Italian
heel (just Apulian Gallipoli and Otranto: see 845), Venice, the Dalmatian towns
and Albania (Dyrrhachium) in the West; and extended thence across Greece to
Cyprus - shared as a tax base with the Caliphate - and Chaldea in far NE Asia
Minor, and the S Crimea in the north.
The Rhomaniyan “archontate” or lesser governorship of Dalmatia, created in
about 810, comprised several coastal outposts (Treadgold 1997: 428).
As before, present-day Greece and Asia Minor represented the heartland of the
In Asia Minor, western Cilicia was Byzantine; the Caliphate held eastern Cilicia,
with the border drawn about halfway between Silifke (Seleucia) and Tarsus. The
Taurus and Anti-Taurus Mountains between Kayseri (Caesarea) and Malatya
(Melitene) were a no man’s land. In the NE the border ran between Erzinçan and
Erzurum (Theodosiopolis) to the Black Sea ‘corner’ east of Trabzon (Trebizond).

Treadgold Army p.177 proposes that the Empire contained some eight million
people. The empire comprised about 750,000 sq km [Treadgold 1997: 8]; so that
is only about 11 people per sq km. If one prefers to apply Stathakopoulos’s (2008)
figure of about 15 per km2—for average or moderately prosperous times—the
result is over 11 million.
For comparison, there were 13.6 million people living in Turkey at the time of
its first census (1927); dividing that by its area of 784,000 sq km [present-day
extent], we get 17 ppkm2. At that time still 83% of the workforce was in
agriculture, and there was almost no mechanisation [O S Morgan, ed., Agricultural
Systems of Middle Europe, New York 1933].

In terms of military manpower, the Byzantine Empire’s far western themes were
not considered important: there were only some 2,000 troops permanently
stationed in Sicily, notwithstanding that the Muslims already held the western
third of the island. Based on the number of troops deployed, and the pay-rates of
their commanders, the main borders were those of Macedonia and Thrace:
against the Slavs and Bulgarians, and in the East the themes of Seleucia,
Cappadocia, Charsianum, the Armeniacs and Chaldea: against the Caliphate.

1a. Italy: Salerno breaks with Benevento. Siconulf, brother of the Duke Sicard who
was killed by the partisans of Radelgis/Radelchis, was proclaimed (840 or 841)
prince at Salerno, which from that time constituted an independent principality.

With the assistance of the Saracens and with the spoils of the churches, the
Salernitans under Siconulfus defended their independence, which was confirmed
in 851 by the German (Frankish) Emperor Hludwig (Louis) II, to whom the prince
had sworn allegiance. The chief towns of the principality, which covered most of
the south-west, were ex-Byzantine Taranto [see next], Cassano, Cosenza in N
Calabria, Paestum, Conza, Salerno, Sarno near Mt Vesuvius, Cimitile (Nola),
Capua, Teano, and Sora (Cath. Encyc. under “Salerno”).

1b. Italy: (Or in 839:) As we have seen, Saracens took control of the port-town of
Taranto, exploiting the weak Longobard control. Taranto became an Arab
stronghold and privileged harbour for 40 years. It was from here that ships
loaded with prisoners sailed (rowed) to the Arab ports, where the prisoners were
sold in the slave markets (‘History of Taranto’, 2009, Wikipedia).
In the same year, 840, as we noted earlier, the Arabs defeated a
Venetian/Byzantine fleet sent to relieve Taranto and Sicily. An Arab fleet left
Taranto, defeated in the Gulf of Taranto a Venetian fleet of 60 ships summoned
by the emperor Theophilus, and entered the Adriatic sea, sacking the coastal
cities such as Ancona (Ahmad p.18). Cf 840-42: Bari.

The doge Pietro Tradonico was conferred the title Spatharius by the Patriarch of
Constantinople in 840 in return for promising to help defend Byzantium against
the Aghlabi Saracens from North Africa who had invaded Byzantine Apulia. The
Venetians suffered a humiliating defeat near Taranto, and was forced to retreat to
Venice by the advancing Saracen fleet.

1c. Italy: The Adriatic towns suffered intermittently from Saracen attacks. As
noted, Ancona was plundered in 840. Adria, in the delta of the Po, was
unsuccessfully attacked in the same year; across the sea Ossero (Osor) on the
Dalmatian island of Cherso was pillaged and burnt (Easter 840). On the sea two
Venetian fleets were defeated, one near Ancona in 840, another in Sansego, just
south of Cherso [modern upper Croatia], in 842, and everywhere the Muslims
robbed and captured Venetian merchantmen (Nicol 1992: 27; McCormick 2001:
47, 919).

2. Sicily: The central-western towns of Platini, Caltabellotta, Corleone and possibly

also Marineo and Geraci (*) came to terms with the Saracens and surrendered
(Ahmad p.12).

(*) Locations:
Platini: in the central-south, NW of Agrigento.
Caltabellotta: also in the central-south, NW of Agrigento.
Corleone: inland west-central Sicily, south of Palermo.
Marineo: S of Palermo, nearer to it than Corleone.
Geraci Siculo: SE of Cefalù.

4. (also 850, 869): Vikings enter the western Mediterranean and conduct large-
scale raids up the Rhone River in search of slaves and to capture nobles for
ransom. See 844.

1. fl. Leo the Mathematician, born ca. 790. In 840-43 he was Metropolitan
archbishop of Thessalonica. In the palace at Constantinople he created trees with
mechanical birds, metal lions that roared, and the emperor’s fabled levitating
throne (Rautman p.295).
As described later by Luitprand in the 10th century, "in front of the Emperor's
throne was set up a tree of gilded bronze, its branches filled with birds, likewise
made of bronze gilded over, and these emitted cries appropriate to their different
species. Now the Emperor's throne was made in such a cunning manner that at
one moment it was down on the ground, while at another it rose higher and was
seen to be up in the air. This throne was of immense size and was, as it were,
guarded by lions, made either of bronze or wood covered with gold, which struck

the ground with their tails and roared with open mouth and quivering tongue” (in
Mango 1986).

2. Italy: The batriq (patrikios) of Sardinia is listed among the Rhomaniyan

provincial governors by Ibn Khurdadhbeh.
Sardinia seems never to have formed a regular theme, and passed away from
the empire during the later 9th century. We have, however, traces of its East-
Roman governors in the 9th century. A seal of Theodotus, with the title hypatos
[‘consul’], who was “doux [military commander] of Sardinia”, has been preserved;
and also seals of the archons of Cagliari, with the “curious” style archonti mereias
kalareios (thus J B Bury, in his 1906 edn of Gibbon). Archonti: ‘lords, magnates,
rulers’. Mereias means ‘part(s)’, perhaps meaning that only part of the island was
under Christian rule.

Villages, Forts, Castles, Towns, Cities

The Muslim writer Ibn Khordadhbeh or Khurdadhbih, writing between 840 and 845
or later, was the author of a geographical description of Romania. (Key Arab
sources on the Empire: Ibn Khurdadhbih, an ninth-century Persian who was
director of the postal and intelligence service in Iran; al-Yaqubi, an Armenian who
in the ninth century wrote a Book of Countries; and Qudamah, a 10th-century
Christian who had embraced Islam, served as a tax accountant at Baghdad and
wrote a book discussing the postal and tax systems of the Abbasid Caliphate.)

Excerpt: “ . . . Sandabart (Santabaris), 35 miles beyond which lies the Meadow of

the King's Asses at Darawliyah (Dorylaeum). From Darawliyah it is 15 miles to the
fortress of Ghartibuli, and three on to Kanais-al-Malik, ‘the King's Churches’ (the
Basilica of Anna Comnena), then 25 miles to At-Tulfll, 'the Hills’ and 15 to Al-
Akwir, whence in 15 miles you reach Malajinah (Malagina). From here it is five
miles to Istabl-al-Malik, 'the King's Stables’ [a military ranch (*)] and 30 on to liisn-
al-Ghabri, ' the Dusty Fortress ' (namely Kibotos, whence the ferry goes over to
Aigialos), and thence it is 24 miles on to Al-Khalij, ' the Strait ' (which is the
Bosporus of Constantinople)” (from Le Strange’s Eastern Caliphate, at

(*) Malagina was an aplekton or military depot and mustering camp, where
armies assembled. Food, fodder and arms were gathered at these points
before a campaign was launched.

Khurdadhbih’s Routes and Kingdoms probably received its final redaction ca.885;
much of his information comes from al-Jarmi, a prisoner of the Romanics until 845
(ODB ii:974). He asserts that there were only "five" real cities in all of
Byzantine Asia Minor, namely Nicaea; Ephesus; Amorium; Ancyra; and Samala
(?), although there also a considerable number of fortresses of village size.
“In days of old”, writes Khurdadhbih, “cities were numerous in Rum but now
they have become few. Most of the districts are prosperous and pleasant and
have each an extremely strong fortress [presumably a reference to the thematic
capitals*, the seats of the strategoi], on account of the frequency of the raids
which the fighters of the faith [Muslim ghazis] direct upon them. To each village
appertains a castle [read: acropolis or small fort] where in time of flight they may
take shelter.” – Quoted in Hodges & Whitehouse p.63.

(*) Ancyra’s extramural population was substantial, but its citadel was tiny:
just 350 metres by 150 metres (Haldon 1990: 113, citing Foss).

Browning, p.94, comments that the ‘cities’, or larger towns, were already
medieval in style. A jumble of narrow alleyways had long since replaced the broad
open grid pattern of classical Antiquity.
Nicomedia, 80 km west of Constantinople, in earlier centuries a great imperial
capital, now lay in ruins.

840 or 842:
1. S. Greece: The general of the Peloponnese Theme, Theoctistus Bryennius,
defeated two rebellious (or should we say self-assertive?) Slav tribes, the Ezeritai
and the Milingoi, who occupied the Taygetos Mountains west of ancient Sparta in
the Peloponnesus. They were forced to pay a tribute or tax to the Empire (Tobias
2007). They were still free in 920/40 and preserved their language at least until
the time of the Fourth Crusade, 1204.

2. fl. Cassia or Ikasia, woman poet: writer of 12-syllable epigrams. Daughter of a

Romanian (‘Byzantine’) noble, she had taken part in a bride-show for the emperor
Theophilus (in about 830). Her sharp tongue lost her the throne, and she spent
the rest of her life in a convent.

Cassia, Woman Poet

Kassia, Ikasia or Cassia was from a wealthy family in Constantinople. Her father
had the title of candidatos [a middle-level official] at the Imperial Court - a military
title given to (minor) members of the aristocracy (Silvas 2006). Because of the
honour given to her father, it is assumed that Kassia and her family were
members of the Imperial Court. Like other aristocratic young girls of the court,
Kassia, received a private education [from about 815] that was influenced by
Classical Greek studies and which can be observed in her verse and writings. Cf
c.845: Photios’s Myriobiblion.
The correspondence between the teen-aged Kassia and the abbot Theodore the
Studite (d. 826) reveals her inclination to become a nun, although he tried to
dissuade her from such a decision so early in her life. Kassia also sent to Theodore
examples of her writings, to which he responded with compliments on her literary
Gibbon, citing Symeon the Logothete, writes thus on the bride-show of ca. 830:
“In the awkwardness of a first declaration, the prince [Theophilos] could only
observe that in this world, women had been the occasion of much evil [in
reference to Eve, the first created woman]; "And surely, Sir," she [Kassia] pertly
replied, "they have likewise been the occasion of much good" [in reference to the
Virgin Mary]. This affectation of unseasonable wit displeased the imperial lover;
he turned aside in disgust; Icasia concealed her mortification in a convent, and
the modest silence of Theodora was rewarded with the golden apple” [i.e. she was
chosen as bride].
It is said that in 843, aged about 33, Kassia founded her own monastery, whose
abbess she became.
Over 50 liturgical chants (hymns) are attributed to Kassia, but perhaps only 24
are really hers. She also wrote 261 secular verses in the forms of epigrams,
gnomic verses, and moral sentences. —Diane Touliatos-Miles, ‘Women Composers
in Byzantium’,; accessed 2007.

The East: The reformed Rhomaniyan army, strengthened by the renegade Persian
Khurramites, holds off Arab raids in Cappadocia. “Never had unaided thematic
armies defended their land so well”, writes Treadgold, 1997: 445.
Cappadocia was raised in status from a cleisura or military district to a theme
or military province at or after this time, with 4,000 troops. The seat of the
strategus was at Corum* (ibid: 443, 465).

(*) In the SE near Tyana (map in Treadgold 1997: 368). Not to be confused
with modern Çorum (medieval Euchaita) frurther north. By the 900s
Caesarea superseded the former as the capital of Byzantine Cappadocia.

The Arab writer Khordadhbeh, fl. 840, records the Romanic army strength in the
eastern themes as ‘120,000’ men. If so, then we would expect the western
themes in addition to have numbered some 50,000 – total some 170,000 (Heath

1976: 8). This is an over-estimate. Treadgold 1997 prefers 120,000 for the entire
armed forces, east and west. He proposes that the Tagmata and the Asian themes
totalled some 70,000 men; the land troops in the west 25,600; and the navy some
14,600 oarsmen: see table after the entry for 867, below.
For a skeptical view of these numbers, see Whittow pp.190-192; he proposes
(p.192) a total army enrolment of as few as 30,000 as late as 975 . . .

1. Calabria, Apulia and Benevento: Called in by the Beneventans, Sicilian Arabs
cross to mainland Italy and take the Byzantine town of Reggio at the tip of the
"toe"; also ex-imperial Taranto (840) and Beneventan/Lombard Bari on the "back
heel" of Italy (841) = establishment of the Muslim emirate of Bari: 841/42-871 (it
was not formally recognized as such until 847). Evidently the Muslims who ruled
Taranto were not associated with the Muslims who captured Bari, although they
were on good terms with each other.
As noted earlier, Venice sent "60" ships in a vain attempt to aid the local
Byzantine forces.

The Emirate of Bari

In 840 the Longobard Radelchi/s, duke of Benevento, asked help from the Arabs
to fight against his rival Siconolfo. The Arabs intervened and took advantage by
conquering Bari.
Capua, north of Naples, was burned to the ground by the Saracens. After Capua
was destroyed (A.D. 841) by the Arabs, its inhabitants moved to nearby Casilinum
and founded modern Capua. First in 840 the inhabitants of old Capua were
evacuated to a nearby hilltop fortress called Sicopolis. They only returned to the
plain in 856, in a different place, five km away fron the Volturno river-crossing.
This became the new Capua.

A Longobard prince, Radelchis, who was held prisoner in Taranto, was freed by his
partisans, brought to Benevento, and made duke. At the same time, the Saracens
took control of Taranto, exploiting the weak Longobard control. Taranto became
an Arab stronghold and privileged harbour for 40 years. It was from here that
ships loaded with prisoners sailed to the Arab ports, where the prisoners were
sold in the slave market. - In the same year, 840, an Arab fleet of “36” ships
(Skylitzes; figure) left Taranto, defeated in the gulf of Taranto a Venetian fleet of
60 ships summoned by the emperor Theophilus, and about 841 (uniquely)
entered the Adriatic sea, sacking the coastal towns of eastern Italy. Saracens from
Bari ravaged as far the Dalmatian towns Budva (Butova) and Rose (Rosa),
plundered the Lower Town at Kotor (Kattaros) and besieged but failed to take
Ragusa-Dubrovnik (Constantine Porphyrogenitus III, 61, 62; Skylitzes trans.
Wortley p.142). But, as we have said, they were excluded from the Adriatic

Bari fell to Khalfun, a Sicilian-based Muslim Berber warlord who Baladhuri calls ‘al-
Barbari’ (sic: ‘the Berber’), by an act of treachery in 840 or 841. The area of SE
Italy that he controlled was later (847) recognised by the Caliph in Samarra as an
emirate or province (the title he received was that of wali, ‘prefect’).
After Khalfun’s death, first the Muslim ‘brigand’ al-Mufarraj bin Sallam from
853-871, and then another Berber named Sawdan, controlled all the coast of the
“boot” from ex-Beneventan Bari around to ex-Byzantine Reggio Calabria, and
terrorized Southern Italy. Others say that the Saracens at Taranto were
independent of Bari. In any event, the Saracens even plundered the Abbey of St
Michael on Mt Gargano in N Apulia. They claimed the title of Emir, and
independence from the Emir in Palermo, sending envoys to Baghdad/Samarra to
get formal recognition (847) of their independence from Sicily (Kreutz, p.38;
Stenhouse, ‘Crusades in Context’, http://www.answering-, accessed 2009).
Mufarraj (emir or wali from 853) built a mosque at Bari and occupied “24” or
“48” fortresses, i.e. walled villages, in Apulia and raided the territory of Naples.

But the Byzantines and Venetians remained dominant in the inner Adriatic; there
were no major Arab incursions there between 841 and 866 (Ahmad pp.18-19).

In Sicily the Muslims held one-third in the west; the Empire still held the eastern

1. Naples: Sergius was elected by the Neapolitans to be their duke in AD 840. He
was seen as the only hope of keeping the Latins (Lombards) from seizing control
of ex-Byzantine Naples since the Empire seemed unable to do so. Sergius used
diplomacy as much as military force to defy the Lombard threat. He even called
on the Saracens in Sicily for help (they had a history of cooperation going back to
the 830s) (Kreutz p.73).

In return for Saracen mercenary soldiers, Sergius was willing to provide

Neapolitan ships to aid the Saracens at Bari in 841 and Messina in 842 (see below
under 841-42).

2. Sicily: At the same time as they besieged Enna*, the Arabs had laid siege to the
Cefalù on the north coast 70 km to the east of Palermo (Metcalfe 2009: 14).

(*) Enna = Gk: Castro Yannis [y’Enna]; mistakenly borrowed as It.

Castrogiovanni, ‘castle of John’.

In the spring of 838, as related earlier, while the siege of Cefalù was extended,
naval reinforcements had arrived from Constantinople that forced the Arabs to lift
the siege. The death at this time of Ziyadat Allah led to a pause in the Arab
offensive on the island, but in the last years of the reign of Theophilos the
situation quickly got worse for Byzantium. In 840, as we noted earlier, the central-
western towns of Platani, Caltabellotta, Corleone and Geraci Siculo, among others,
were lost.
When Theophilos died at the beginning of 842, the western part of the island,
the later Val* di Mazara, was already securely in the hands of the Arabs. Cf 840

(*) From Ar. wilayah, ‘region’. The term Val is first recorded much later, in
the Norman period.

1a. The Adriatic: The Venetian navy was quickly made ready, and in early 841
[McCormick 2001: 920 says in 840] 60 of its largest ships, each carrying 200 men,
sailed out of the lagoon to their appointed rendezvous with a Byzantine squadron
(J. Norwich, A History of Venice, 1989: 32). The combined fleet then moved on
southward, until it came upon the Saracens off the little Calabrian port of Crotone.
Whether the Greek admiral fled at the first engagement - as the Venetians were
later indignantly to swear - or whether the fault lay elsewhere, will never be
known; but the Christian defeat was total. The pride of the Venetian navy went to
the bottom; the land force which had disembarked near Taranto was wiped out.
The Saracen fleet then advanced unhindered up the Adriatic, sacking Ancona
and reaching the very edge of the lagoon before the shoals and currents swirling
around the delta of Po forced it to turn back.

1b. Italy, Puglia: Saracen Berbers under Khalfun capture Bari from the
Beneventine Latins (‘Lombards’) led by the Gastaldo Pandone, Radelchis’s
governor, and establish an emirate (to 871).

2. Italy, Campania: As noted earlier, Capua was sacked and completely destroyed
by Saracens in the pay of Radelchis I of Benevento. Landulf and his eldest son,

Lando I, took the initiative in fortifying the nearby hill of Triflisco on which will be
built "New Capua", the Capua of today (Wikipedia 2010 ‘Lando I’). Cf next 841-42.

841: Christian Ireland: Pagan Norwegian Vikings establish a base at the

mouth of the river Liffy - the future town of Dublin.

1. Greece: A fresh rising by Slavs in the Peloponnesus, which was again
suppressed, and military colonists were established there, as in northern Greece
(DAI 1962).

2. The West: Muslim raids on the Italian mainland and into the Adriatic. As related
earlier, Tunisian Arabs cross to mainland Italy (841) and take the Byzantine town
of Reggio at the tip of the "toe"; also Taranto (839) and ex-Byzantine
(Beneventan) Bari on the "back heel" of Italy (c.842) = a Muslim emir rules in Bari
842-871. Cf 873: The Byzantines return to Otranto (the town at the back point of
the heel).
In Dalmatia the Saracens (from Taranto) burnt down Osero - Osor on the island
of Cherso or Cres - in 840 or 841, and the following year the Bari Arabs
“shattered” a Venetian fleet and seized the port-towns of Budva, Rosa and Kotor
in what is now Montenegro (Harris 2003: 33). Saracens from Bari ravaged as far
the Dalmatian towns Budva and Rose, plundered the Lower Town at Kotor
(Kattaros) and besieged but failed to take Ragusa-Dubrovnik (McCormick 2001:
919; Constantine Porphyrogenitus DAI III, 61, 62).

Mid 800s: Muslim warlords hold nearly the entire toe and heel of Italy:
low-point in the geographical size of the empire. Cf 868, 876.

Sicily: It required more than a decade for the Muslims to overcome the resistance
of the inhabitants of the western third (the Val di Mazara, to 841) and even longer
– 18 years - to get hold, between the 841 and the 859, of the Val di Noto (the
south-eastern third) and then the Val Dèmone (the northeast: intensified struggle
from from 860) (Ahmad p.17).

775, Constantine 842, Theophilos 959, Constantine VII


Total state revenues: 1.9 million 3.1 3.9

In millions of

Source: Treadgold 1995: 198.

The Boukoleon Palace, a new southern part of the palace complex, lay between
the older palace complex and the south-eastern shore of the Sea of Marmara. It
was built by Theophilos (829-842) with a facade to the sea on top of the sea walls
that had been thickened in this region some decades before.
The Boukoleon Palace formed the main living quarter of the Great Palace
between the 9th and 11th centuries. It was enclosed into the new fortifications of
the palace by Nikephoros Phokas (963-969). Though the residence was shifted to
the Blacherna palace after 1081, the Boukoleon Palace was still in use later. It was
used by the Latin emperors between 1204 and 1261, but given up after the
Rhomaniyan reconquest.
The western part of the facade survived until 1873 when it was demolished to
make way for the railway; but the eastern part still stands. A reconstruction (**)
has been based on old drawings made before the destruction and the suggestions
of E. Mamboury published in 1934. About the back parts of the building behind
the facade and the railway, nearly nothing is known. Thus ‘Byzantium 1200’, at
O’Rourke BYZANTIUM: THE LONG REVIVAL 814-976 44; accessed 2008.

(**) See reconstruction at:


After Treadgold 1982, 1995 and 1997.

Following serious setbacks against the Arabs in 838, the army was enlarged and
its pay increased in 839, first paid in Lent 840. Pay for an ordinary soldier rose
from five to nine nomismata per year (Treadgold 1982: 76; also 1995).
The soldier himself received pay (roga) and in some cases rations when he was
called out on active duty. Browning p.130 notes that "sometimes" the tenant(s) of
military holdings in the themes fulfilled their duty by paying a man to serve.
Theophilus enrolled some 30,000 Khurramite Kurdish troops – the Khurramites
were a ‘heretical’, anti-Islamic movement - in the East Roman army after they
defected from the Caliphate and converted to Christianity. They were distributed
among the eastern themes, i.e. were given military farms. This raised the total
number of troops in the Themes from some 68,000 to about 96,000. Theophilus
also doubled the size of the Tagma of the Optimates, the logistics support corps,
from 2,000 to 4,000 men.
The new cleisurae and themes were: Paphlagonia (5,000 soldiers);
Cappadocia (4,000); Chaldia (4,000); Charsianum (4,000); and Seleucia
(5,000 troops: subdivided from the Anatolic and Armenaikon themes); and in the
West: the former ‘archontate’ of Dyrrhachium or Durres: present-day Albania,
which was now raised to the status of a theme and allocated 2,000 men. Troop
numbers from Treadgold, Army p.134.
Further troops were also enrolled elsewhere in Europe: 2,000 in Thrace, raising
its enrolment to 5,000 men; 2,000 in Macedonia (also to 5,000); and (as noted)
2,000 in the new theme of Dyrrhachium, present-day Durres, on the coast of
modern Albania.
The overall total including officers was probably 139,000 men (Treadgold, Army

At a tactical level, Theophilus created new units called banda (singular bandon) of
50 cavalry and 150 infantry. There were five banda in a drungus or battalion of
1,000 men.

The senior officer at this time was the strategos of the elite Anatolikon theme in
central Asia Minor, with the senior Tagmatic commander, the Domestic of the
Scholae, ranking after him (Heath 1979: 12).
Ranked by their salaries, the generals can be listed as follows:


lbs of gold:
One litra or
‘pound’ =

40: The major commands: Anatolic, the senior theme; Scholae [the
senior Tagma]; Thracesian; and Armeniac.

36 Bucellarion; Opsician; and Macedonia.

24 Cappadocia; Paphlagonia; and Thrace.

12 The typical salary of a general, including those leading the


(864 Excubitors and the other Tagmata; Drungary of the (central) Fleet
nomismata and the two marine themes (Hellas and Cibyrrhaeots); and the
) theme of Chaldia.

6: Areas smaller than themes, i.e. the "Cleisura" of Charsianum and

Seleucia and the ‘duke’ (doux) of Calabria (serving under the
strategos of Sicily. Also the two naval drungaries under the
strategos of the Cibyrrhaeots, iue the Gulf (S Asia Minor) and the
Aegean Islands.

Source: Treadgold, Army p.122.


Treadgold presents the navy in 840 as divided between three commands as

follows: 19,600 oarsmen in the central imperial fleet [131* galleys]; 12,300 in the
theme of the Cibyrrhaeots in the East Aegean-Asia Minor [say 82** galleys] and
2,300 in Hellas [15 galleys] (Treadgold, Army 1995: 67). Total, 200+ ships.

(*) Calculated using 150 rowers as an average per ship; some ships were smaller
and others larger. In the 10th century the largest dromons were crewed by 200

(**) The known number of ships’ captains (67) and pilots (134: two per ship) in the
period AD 811-42 implies that the Cibyrrhaeots could deploy 67 ships, or an
average of 184 crew per ship – 150 rowers and 34 others: marines, officers,
helmsmen etc (Army p.131).

In State, 1997: 376, Treadgold argues there was no distinct central imperial fleet
until the 870s. This seems unlikely since the position of the droungarios tou
ploïmou, Drungary of the (Imperial) Fleet, first occurs in the so-called "Tacticon
Uspensky" of ca. 842 (ODB: 663-64.)

From three to five naval commands: In the mid to late 800s, the old
Cibyrrhaeots was broken up into three commands: a reduced new Cibyrrhaeots
with 5,700 rowers: say 38 ships; a fleet of Samos with 3,980 oarsmen: say 27
ships; and, after 843, a fleet of the Aegean Islands: Aigaion or Aiyaíon Pélaghos,
based in the Dodecanese islands north of Crete: 2,610 rowers and say 17 ships.
“Aiyaíon”: when gamma (γ ) came between vowels, it was pronounced like y.
More exactly, the Aiyaion Pelaghos had been one of several drungaries within
the Cibyyrhaeot command; they were now (c.844) split and each part came under
its own strategos. Despite its name, the fleet of the Aegean Sea was responsible
not only for the lower central Aegean but also for the bottom half of the Sea of
Marmara (Const. Porph., cited by Toynbee p.261).

Adding the Imperial Fleet with 19,600 oarsmen and possibly 131 ships, and Hellas
with 2,300 and about 15 ships, we have a total of perhaps 374 ships in about
875 (cf Treadgold Army p.67; also Toynbee p.261).

Alternatively we can estimate the total number of ships using Treadgold’s overall
figure of “34,200” oarsmen in the navy in the period 899-959 (Army pp. 67, 197).
As a thought-experiment, we can imagine that one quarter were allocated to
large, less fast galleys (large khelandia or chelandia or ‘transporter-combatants’
with a crew of 200), one-half to medium sized fast galleys (smaller chelandia or
dromons proper, with a crew of 140) and one-quarter to small vessels (each with
ousakioi or complements of 100 men). This yields: 43 large dromons; 122
medium-sized ships and 86 small ‘ousakio-galleys’: total 251.
Records indicate that the number of regular navy ships was actually around
240 in 949 (Treadgold 1995: 85, note 94). In other words there were few ships of
the largest type. They were presumably distributed about 70-30-20-10-10

between the Imperial Fleet, the Cibyrrhaeots, Samos, Hellas and the Aegean fleet.
The largest naval force able to be dispatched by the empire in the period 870-
1000 was about "300" warships, a figure that included requisitioned private ships
– oared galleys with auxiliary sails - converted to combat status. This did not
include non-combat transports, also requisitioned; they were often pure sailboats
(Army 1995: 85n). Specifically, in a major naval attack on Egypt in 852-53,
Byzantium was able to deploy three separate fleets totalling "300" vessels, which
would have included a significant number of requisitioned private ships. Of the
300, “100” were marakib or larger galleys (Norwich 1991: 57; Dromon p.47, citing
the Arab writer al-Tabari). The figure ‘300’ is also given by Leo the Deacon for the
year 971. Cf 855.

Military Lands Held by Oarsmen

In about AD 950 the value of the inalienable state lands held by oarsmen was only
two pounds [litrae] of gold in the case of the central imperial fleet, as against four
pounds worth in the territories of the naval themes (Toynbee p.284 citing Const.
Porph.). This seems odd, but perhaps the salaries of the former were higher, as an
offset. The location of the lands of the central fleet’s sailors is not known, but
presumably somewhere on the littoral of the Sea of Marmara.

To sum up.
In the 9th century, from Crete to Cyprus and Mesopotamia, the Rhomaioi went
on the offensive. For a long time, however, their advances were met by Arab re-
conquests (AD 837-42, 927, 937), and there were more than a few debacles: eg
Theophilus’ defeat by Mutasim in the 838, and reverses in Sicily.

842-867: MICHAEL III

Known as Mythistés or ho methystes, 'the Drunkard'.

Also called ‘the Amorian’ or ‘Phrygian’: regency under
Empress THEODORA 842-856.

Son of Theophilus, and born at Amorium in Phrygia, Michael was aged

just two (or six according to some) when he assumed the throne; his
mother Theodora was 27.
In 855, aged 15, he was forced by his mother to marry a girl chosen
in the traditional bride show, Eudocia Decapolitissa, and not his
mistress Eudocia Ingerina who he would have preferred to marry. This
prompted him to conspire with his mother's brother Bardas, and they
forced Theodora to resign (856).
“Aside from leading an occasional army, Michael’s main acts [were]
to squander money and to approve the murders of Theoctistus [see
855] and Bardas [see 866]” (Treadgold 1997: 455).

1. Death of Theophilus, 20 January 842, from natural causes, aged about 39. His
son Michael III succeeds. During his minority, the empire was governed by his
mother Theodora, her uncle Sergios, and the minister Theoktistos.

2. The way to public life was probably opened for a young Photios - the future
patriarch: born ca 820 - by, according to one account, the marriage of his brother
Sergios to Irene, a sister of the Empress-regent Theodora. Photios became a
captain of the guard and subsequently chief imperial secretary (protasekretis). At
an uncertain date, Photios participated in an embassy to the Arabs. See 876.

3. South-central Asia Minor: Off Cape Chelidonia – the Chelidonian Isles near
Antalya, - Mustasim's great fleet of “400” ships, commanded by Aby Dinar
[Ahmad ibn Dinar], sets out from Syria to capture New Rome (Constantinople) but
is destroyed by a storm.(*) The fleet is said (- which may appear to be
exaggerated but is probably credible) to have totalled "400" galleys. Only “seven”
made it back to Syria (Vita of the Empress Theodora, cited by McCormick 2001:
Oddly - given that the storm was responsible - this Romanian (‘Byzantine’)
victory is listed by Pryor & Jeffreys (p.385) as one of the most notable naval
victories achieved by the empire. Certainly it was a major setback for the

(*) All galleys rode low in the water; and so risked being swamped in heavy
weather. For this reason, they always sailed close to land when possible,
so that they could beach ashore during storms.

4. fl. George, the self-described Hamartolus [‘the sinner’], monk and chronicler.
His Chronicle, written in a popular and simple style, is “a typical production of
Byzantine monastic piety” (Dudley & Lang p.193). The sections dealing with the
distant past are unreliable but the chronicle is a contemporary source for the
period 813-42.

5. Sicily: (5a) Assisted by Naples, their ally since 832, the Saracens capture
Byzantine Messina 9842/43 is the date prefred by the NCMH 1995: 342). They call
the city M’sna (alt. dates 839; 843).
The siege of Messina began at the end of 842 or beginning of 843 and lasted
for two years. In these operations the Arabs were helped by their Neapolitan
allies. Attacked by sea and land, the town had to capitulate to the Muslims.
A fleet under Fadl ibn Ja’far [Fadl bin Ja'far Hamdani], assisted by the
Neapolitans, who for protection against the Duke of Benevento had allied
themselves with the Arabs, attacked Messina, and after a long resistance took it
by an unexpected attack from the land side.

(5b) Saracens destroy Formia, the town between Rome and Naples. The surviving
Italians escape to Gaeta (alt. date 846) (Skinner 2003: 37).

(5c). Italy: Civil war: Radelchis, the Lombard-Italian prince of Benevento, was
expelled by the Arab mercenaries he had engaged against his rival Sikonolf of
Salerno. (The latter also employed Arab troops.) Beneventan Bari falls (841/42)
to the Sicilian Muslims = foundation of the mini-emirate of Bari. Cf 846.
In spite of Naples having helped Muslim forces take Bari in 841 and Messina
shortly thereafter, Arab freebooters continued their interference with Neapolitan
commerce and became intolerable. In 842 they landed at Ponza, an island off
Gaeta. Naples now formed an alliance with Amalfi, Gaeta and Sorrento to defeat
the Muslim ‘pirates’ (slavers), forcing them to abandon Ponza (Kreutz p.25); and
in 846 (see there) a united Campanian fleet was to help to thwart an Arab
invasion of Rome. Cf 843.
Amalfi and Gaeta, which 100 years earlier were only castra, basically defence
posts, had by now grown to become substantial towns (Wickham p.149).

In Francia or the 'Carolingian Empire', civil war ends. A treaty is signed

between Hludwig (Louis) 'the German' and Charles 'the Bald', called the
"Oath of Strasbourg" - the earliest documents in Old High German and Old

The Byzantine economy was growing strongly by this time. Treadgold estimates
that the Byzantine state’s revenues grew as follows:

775, Constantine 842, Theophilos 959, Constantine


Total state 1.9 million 3.1 3.9

In millions of

Source: Treadgold 1995: 198.

Sicily: The Saracens focus their attacks on the eastern side of the island. As noted
earlier, Messina was now taken. This gave them control of the Strait of Messina.
Because they also held Pantelleria (the island SW of Sicily) and largely controlled
the waters south of Sicily - although not yet Malta, which remained an imperial
outpost -, it became possible for them to prevent the Romanic fleet from entering
the western Mediterranean (Ahmad p.12).

Italy: With Arab aid, Sikenolf of Salerno takes from Radelchis all the Beneventan
lands except Benevento itself and Siponto on the Adriatic coast (Kreutz p.31). Cf
844: Gaeta.

1. The regent Theodora calls a Church Council = final defeat of iconoclasm; and
orthodoxy is re-established. On 11 March 843 the empress and the patriarch led a
solemn procession of icons from the Blachenai palace to Hagia Sophia. The figure
of Christ was thereafter restored on Romanic/Byzantine coins - by her son Michael
III: see 867.

After her husband's death, Theodora and her son took over the empire; she
restored the display and veneration of icons; she ordered the recall of all exiles
and the release of all who were in prison for their support for icons and ordered
that they gather in Constantinople. At the assembled Council the restoration of
icon veneration was proclaimed and the iconoclast patriarch John was deposed:
PBW, citing Vita Mich. Sync. 25.

2. Fourth expedition to recover Crete: The island is briefly recaptured from

the Muslims by an expedition under one of the four regents, the eunuch patrikios
Theoctistus. He held the post of logothetes tou dromon or minister for
communications and foreign affairs* (Dromon p.46; Norwich 1993: 57). See 855.
Dating acc. to ‘SL’, Symeon the Logothete: Theoctistus made the expedition
against Crete, 18 March-later in 843.

Byzantium, after seeing a storm destroy in 842 (see there) a powerful Arab fleet
rowing towards Constantinople (but which came from Syria and not from Crete),
decided to attack Crete. The expedition took place in 843, and was led by the
logothete Theoctistes. It resulted in a temporary occupation of Crete, but
Theoctistes returned to Constantinople because of rumours spread by the Arabs
of political intrigues in the capital, and, according to the continuator of
Theophanes, the troops left in Crete were massacred by the Arabs. Others
propose that in fact the Byzantines held on to the island for several years
(Norwich 1993: 57).
Treadgold, Army 1995: 32, says that the failure to hold Crete led (c.844) to the
creation of—it was detached from the Cibyrrhaeot theme—a new naval theme
of the Aegean Sea with 2,600 oarsmen and 400 marines, the latter called
hoplites or kataphraktoi. Cf 851. The number of oarsmen was sufficient to man
about five large galleys and 17 smaller dromons.

(*) At various times there were different officials called logothete. (a) The Megas

logothetes or Grand Logothete, the head of the logothetes, was personally

responsible for the legal system and treasury, somewhat like a chancellor in
western Europe. (b) The Logothetes tou dromou, lit. “of the course”, i.e. Postal
Logothete, was the head of diplomacy and the postal service. (c) The Logothetes
ton oikeiakon, the Household or Domestic Logothete was head of domestic affairs,
such as the security of Constantinople and the local economy. (d) The Logothetes
tou genikou or General Logothete was responsible for taxation. (e) The
Logothetes tou stratiotikou or Military Logothete was a civilian in charge of
distributing pay to the army; or so most scholars consider him: the ODB ii:1248
argues that this role is not proven.

3. Sicily: The Saracen general Al-Fadl* concluded a new alliance with the
Neapolitans, in spite of the opposition of the Pope. The emir (Abu-l’Aghlab)
decided to assault the town of Messina and called to his aid his Christian ally. As
we saw earlier, the two armies collaborated in siege of Messina which fell to the
Muslims after some months.

(* ) Fadl b. Ja’far, the war-leader of the 840s; not to be confused with his
son ‘Abbas b. Fadl, who became emir in 851. Cf 852.

The West: Following the ‘Oath of Strasbourg” (see earlier), Charlemagne’s

grandsons divide the Frankish kingdom into three realms. See 887-88.

840s: Ruinous expenditure by the caliphs: At Samarra, the new Abbasid

capital, Mu’tasim’s palace, the Jauaq al-Khaqani, built 836-42, was larger
than latter-day Versailles; and al-Mutawakkil’s Great Mosque, 848-52, was
the largest ever built (Hodges & Whitehouse 1983: 156). The minaret of
the mosque is a vast spiralling cone 52-55 metres high with a spiral ramp.
- The entire city was so vast that it extended (wait for it:) fully 35 km
along the Tigris. - If we imagine that every km contained 15,000 people,
then Samarra may have peaked at a total population of … 525,000 people.

The Caliphate: When the caliph al-Mu’tasim died in 843, some 8,000
slaves, who had been bought with silver, were freed. He also left 40,000
saddle horses and 20,000 baggage mules that were tended by 30,000
slave grooms. —Michael the Syrian, Chronique, III, 104, IV, 543.

1. Crete and Asia Minor: The Arabs defeated Theoctistus at Mauropotamum in NW
Asia Minor in mid-843 or 844 – probably at the end of 843, if we follow Symeon
the Logothete (SL) (thus While Theoctistus was
engaged on Crete, the emir of Melitene, ‘Amr, set out to attack Constantinople.
Theoctistus left his army on Crete and mustered another. He was defeated at
Mauropotamum in the territory of the Optimates (the section of Asia Minor
nearest to the capital), and ‘Amr penetrated to the Bosporus. Meanwhile the
Arabs of Crete managed to defeat the army left there (Treadgold 1997: 447).

2. Eastern Asia Minor: The Paulicians form a small kingdom, a splinter state under
Arab protection.
Theodora persecuted them, and it is claimed that during her shortish reign
(regency 842-55/56) the Byzantine army put “100,000" Paulicians to death by the
sword, the gibbet or the flames or by drowning. This figure, equivalent to 640
killed per month, cannot be believed: 10,000 would be a more plausible number.
Presumably the dead included many non-Paulician iconoclasts. Cf 868.
Among those killed in 843-44 was the father of the ‘Senior Messenger’ or
protomandator, Carbeas or Karbeas, an important official on the staff of the
commander of the Anatolikon Theme (ODB 1991: 1107). Carbeas revolted and
with 5,000 other Paulicians fled to Argaoun (SE of Sivas); from there they offered
their services to Amr b. Abdullah ‘al-Aqtar’, the Emir of Melitene. By 856 they had
moved to Tefrice (modern Divrigi) where they were effectively independent of
Melitene, although Carbeas continued to cooperate with the Emir. —Bernard

Hamilton & Yuri Stoyanov, Christian Dualist Heresies in the Byzantine World, C.
650-c. 1450, 1998: 22.

Their new capital-town at Tefrik or Tephrice, present-day Divrigi, founded before

856, was located about halfway between Sivas and Malatya*; also halfway
between Caesarea/Kayseri and Trebizond/Trabzond; or one-third along a line from
Trebizond to Antioch.

(*) To be exact: north of Malatya and SE of Sivas and nearer the latter.
Divrigi lies on a western tributary of the upper Euphrates.

The Bulgarians strike a treaty with the Franks. Cf 846.

The West: Viking pirates storm and sack Muslim Seville, the 3rd largest
town in Iberia. This encouraged the Andalusis, after 844, to build up their
naval forces
The historian Ahmad al-Ya'qubi, writing in 843-844, tells of the attack on
Ishbiliyya (Seville) by the "Majus who are called Rus [ar-Rus]". Ibn al-
Qutiya, a 10th-century Cordoban historian (d. 977), wrote that the
attackers were probably Danish pirates who had sailed up the Guadalquivir
River. They were repelled by the Andalusian forces, who used catapults to
hurl flaming balls of naptha that sank 30 ships. Amir 'Abd al-Rahman II
then managed to arrange a truce. See 859.
A Norse fleet of 80 marãkib, i.e. long boats, and other lesser vessels first
sailed (rowed) up the estuary of the Tagus and assaulted Lisbon. Beaten
off, they sailed south and then went up-river along the Guadalquivir to
attack Seville, which lacked walls (25 September 844). The citadel held out
but the Vikings controlled the town itself for six weeks, i.e. 40 days.
Troops sent from Cordoba by emir Abd al-Rahman II defeated the
Vikings, who were still in Seville. The Saracens captured and hanged some
500 Norsemen. Other prisoners survived, some becoming Muslims and
dairy farmers! (Rolf Scheen, ‘Viking Raids on the Spanish Peninsula’
[1996], online [2009] at; Dromon

844: The kingdom of Scotland absorbs the kingdom of the Picts.

1. The restoration of learning: Photius, the future patriarch [from 858] writes his
Bibliotheca, summaries of the nearly 400 books he has read. Only about half of
these works have survived to the present day. Others date his Bibliotheca to
before 845 or to after 845. Angold 2001: 127 proposes ‘either 838 or 845’.

2. Baghdad: d. the Arab scholar-translator al-Gawhari or al-Jawhari (al-'Abbas ibn-

Sa'id al-Gawhari). He knew Greek so well that he had memorised books on logic in
Greek and, it is said, could recite them by heart. His most important work was his
Commentary on Euclid's Elements. It contained nearly 50 additional propositions
and an attempted proof of the parallel postulate.

1. Sicily: The Muslims pressed into the Val di Noto – the south-east - and occupied
Modica, the fortress on the crags above the river Magro: inland west of Noto; SW
of Syracuse (Ahmad p.12). See 846-47.

2. Italy: The Saracens of the Bari emirate capture Byzantine Otranto, the port
nearest to Greece*, and hold it until 867. Low point of Byzantine fortunes in
the heel. Cf 867: recovered by Hludwig (Louis) II.

(*) Otranto is very close to the easternmost point of the heel. From south
to north, on the ‘outside’, the key Romanic towns of the heel of Italy were:
Otranto, Brindisi and Bari.

Although Constantinople sent several small and large expeditions to aid Sicily
proper, it is very noticeable that no attempt was made to recapture Apulia, nor to
aid Calabria, until the 870s, after Basil I assumed the throne. It was left to the
North Italian monarch Hludwig (Louis) II to challenge the Muslims of Bari, while
Calabria (governed from Sicily) was left to its own devices.
Treadgold, 1995: 68, has suggested that in the 840s just 2,000 professional
troops were stationed the theme of Sicily, with probably 1,000 based on either
side of the straits of Messina.

3. Iraq: The ‘martyrs of Amorion’ were 42 Greek officers and soldiers captured by
the Arabs at Amorion in 838. Taken to Samarra, they were executed on 6 March
845 after seven years of imprisonment (ODB 2:800-801). The story, which is one
of the last examples of collective martyrdom in Rhomaniyan hagiography, was
very popular and is preserved in numerous versions.

4. Cilicia: Exchange of prisoners between the Eastern Muslims and the East
Roman Empire. As related by Ya’qubi and others, Byzantium held many more
prisoners than the Muslims; so the latter had to buy Byzantine slaves locally to
make up the numbers. The number of Muslims covered was about 3,500-3,560
men (probably mostly soldiers), 600-800 Muslim women and children, and 100-
500 dhimmis, i.e. Christian and Jewish subjects of the Caliphate (Toynbee 1973:
Among those ransomed was al-Jarmi, an army officer who had served on the
Syrian frontier; his writings (now lost) on the Byzantines were used by the
historian al-Mas’üdï (whose Tanbih was written in 956).

Cf Gibbon: “Abulpharagius [the 13th century Syriac bishop Gregory or Abu'l-Faraj

or Bar-Hebraeus] relates one of these singular transactions on the bridge of the
river Lamus [Lamas Su] in Cilicia, the limit of the two empires, and one day’s
journey westward of Tarsus (d’Anville, Géographie Ancienne, tom. ii. p. 91). Four
thousand four hundred and sixty Moslems, 800 women and children, 100
confederates, were exchanged for an equal number of Greeks. They passed each
other in the middle of the bridge, and, when they reached their respective friends,
they shouted Allah Acbar [‘God is Great’], and Kyrie Eleison [‘Praise the Lord’].”

1. The regent Theodora orders a Byzantine expedition sent to Sicily (Ahmad p.12).
The troops, many of them battle-hardened men drawn from the far eastern
cleisura (military district) of Charsianum, joined combat with the Arabs in the
neighbourhood of the town of Butera in south-central Sicily; but they were beaten
(845) by Abúl Aghlab’s men and suffered the loss, according to Arab chronicles,
e.g. al-Athir, of “more than 10,000” men (Bury, From the Fall p. 306) (the true
figure would surely be nearer 1,000; after all, there were only 4,000 men on the
rolls of the Charsianum cleisura). See 846-47: east coast.

2. Rome: A combined Sicilian-African Arab/Berber fleet forces a passage past the

river-fortress at Ostia and sails (846) up the Tiber: 11,000 men and 500 horses in
73 ships (Partner 1972: 56).
If the horse-transports carried 20 horses per ship, that represents 25 transport
galleys* (plus 500 horse-handlers or grooms if each was crewed by, say, just 20
men). If we divide the remaining 10,500 men among 48 ships, we have on
average 219 men per vessel. But they have to be rowed. Let us assume that each
galley has 100 oarsmen (i.e. total of 4,800 rowers); that leaves 5,700 fighting
men: soldiers and/or marines [500 cavalry; 5,200 infantry] – quite a strong force

and comparable to the Romanic expedition that liberated Crete in the 10th
century. Probably the oarsmen too were capable of fighting.

(*) It is nearly impossible to beach vessels in the non-tidal Mediterranean

without wrecking them. Thus pure sail boats might be used for carrying
supplies but could not be used to bring horses to shore (Dromon p.307).

The Saracens land, attack Civitavecchia and Nova Ostia (Osti) [23 August 1846],
and march on Rome, where they sack the extra-mural suburbs, including the
Vatican; it was located outside the ancient walls. But they failed to take the city
After defeating a papal force of Saxons, Frisians and Franks (soldiers on
pilgrimage to Rome) in the countryside between Ostia and Rome, the Saracens
reach the suburbs of Rome. The basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul, located outside
the city walls, are sacked [27 August 846]. The ‘pirates’ or raiders, being unable
to breach the antique Aurelian walls of Rome, depart and continue to advance
inland as far as Subiaco, in the foothills of the Apennines east of Rome. They
proceed thence south to Gaeta*, which they failed to take (Ahmad p.19).
In this sequel, a Longobard-Italian army clashed with the Arabs at Gaeta. Guy
of Spoleto found himself in serious difficulties, but the Greco-Italian troops of
Cesarius or Cesare, son of Sergius, the magister militum (commander) in ex-
Byzantine Naples, arrived in time (846).

(*) From north to south the major towns in the greater Naples region were:
Gaeta; Capua (inland); Naples; Amalfi and Salerno.

A new ‘Leonine’ Wall with 44 or 46 towers was built thereafter, in 847/48-52, by

Pope Leo IV. The western extension around old St Peter's Basilica was the first
extension of the city since Antiquity. Cf 848, 859.

The Slave Trade

846: Approximate date that Abu'l Qasim Ubaid'Allah ibn Khordadbeh began his
Kitab al-Masalik wal-Mamalik or Book of Roads and Kingdoms. He was the Director
of Posts and Police (spymaster and postman) for the province of Jibal [western
Iran, Media] under the Abbasid Caliph al-Mu'tamid (ruled 869–885). The final
version dates to later.
He writes thus of the Radhaniyya or Jewish merchants who traded west-east
and east-west from Francia to China. In the Mediterranean sphere their principal
cargo was slaves for the Muslim lands, but they also traded in other low weight,
high value goods:

They journey from West to East, from East to West, partly on land, partly
by sea. They transport from the West eunuchs, female slaves, boys [young
slaves of both sexes], silk brocade, castor, marten [sable] and other furs,
and swords [sabres]. They take ship from Firanja (Francia), on the Western
Sea [Mediterranean], and make for Farama (Pelusium) [in Egypt]. …. Some
make sail for [make a detour through] Constantinople to sell their goods to
the Rumi [Byzantines]; others go to the palace of [the land of] the King of
the Franks to place their goods. Sometimes these Jew merchants, when
embarking from the land of the Franks, on the Western Sea, make for
Antioch (at the head of the Orontes River); thence by land to al-Jabia (al-
Hanaya on the bank of the Euphrates), …. Sometimes, also, they take the
route behind Rum [i.e. down the Danube] and, passing through the country
of the Slavs, arrive at Khamlidj, the capital of the Khazars. . . . [in square
brackets, an alternative translation in the Encyc. Islam, quoted by Rotman

Slaves were their special merchandise, but not the only one. They also carried
luxury goods such as precious fabrics and pearls. They dealt only in ‘imported’
slaves, i.e. selling non-Christian slaves in the west and non-Muslim slaves in the

east. Most captives came from central and eastern Europe, i.e. Moravia and the
Balkans (Rotman p.68). The circuitous routes to and from the Levant were chosen
in part to avoid or minimize the taxes* imposed by the Byzantine authorities
(Rotman pp.68, 74).
Ibn Khordadhbih also mentions Russian merchants operating on all sides of the
Black Sea; they too were slavers. Both the Byzantines and Khazars taxed* them
(Rotman p.77-78).

(*) In the 800s the tax on an imported slave passing through the empire
was two nomismata, equivalent to 20% of the value of a slave sold in the
markets of Constantinople (Rotman p.199: conceivably the value of a slave
sold in the Muslim East was higher: it cost up to 30 nom. to ransom an
adult male Byzantine from the Arabs).

Eastern Sicily: Under Fadl b. Ja’far, the conqueror of Messina, the Sicilian Arabs
continued their advance, and in 846/847 they arrived in strength at Leontinos
(Lentini), between Catania and Syracuse, and occupied it. There would be many
setbacks for imperial arms in the following years. Cf below, 847, 848.

Naples: After the consul Sergius of Naples drove the Saracens from the island of
Ponza in 842, his son Caesarius, in 846, as we have seen, went to the assistance
of pope Leo IV against the same foe, and in 852 freed Gaeta; but to save their
commerce, the Neapolitans thereafter again allied themselves with the Muslims
(Cath. Encyc. under “Naples”). Cf 848.

It was in this period that the pagan Bulgarians began to dominate Rhomaniyan
outer Macedonia.
The chronology is unclear, but probably they penetrated into ‘outer’ Macedonia
- Skopje and the upper Vardar valley - by 860, as by the 880s they ruled as far
west as Ohrid on the border of present-day Albania. This development is poorly
recorded and the loss of these regions was not formally recognised by
Constantinople until the treaty of 904 (Fine 1991: 111).

Low ebb in the Byzantine West: The caliph finally recognizes the small state
formed by Sicilian Muslims at the small town of Bari on the upper back heel of
Italy. See 848, 868, 871. It had fallen into Muslim hands in 841. The Emirate, or
better: “mini-emirate”, of Bari endured until 871 (Kreutz 1996: 32).

The German-Italian king Hludwig (Ludovicus: French/English “Louis”) later in the

year tried, but failed, to re-take Bari for Christendom. The accounts of his
campaign in Apulia are obscure but he returned to his base at Benevento by May
848 (ibid.)

The monk Erigena arrived at the Frankish court: the Irish-born ‘scholastic’
philosopher, c.810–c.877. About 847 he was invited by Charles II, king of
the West Franks - later Western "emperor”, - to take charge of the court
school at Paris.
The tag "Holy Roman Empire" is sometimes applied retrospectively; in
fact this name does not appear in official documents until 1254.

847-52: Francia: Production of forged papal canons nowadays known as

the 'pseudo-Isidoric decretals': origin of the much later doctrine "Papa
caput totius mundus" ('the Pope is head of the entire world'). They were
used as a prop for local bishops in the Frankish empire seeking to assert

their independence against their archbishops and the secular power of the
Western emperor.

847 or 849: 1. Iraq: On the orders of Al-Mutawakkil, 847-861, workmen

begin building the the great spiral mosque at the (since 836) new capital
Samarra. It will become, and remain, the largest mosque in the world. But
it was abandoned when the court returned to Baghdad in later years (882).

2. fl. al-Khwarizmi (Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi), c.780-c.850,

astronomer at the Baghdad ‘House of Wisdom’. Called ‘the father of

Sicily: The Byzantines made an unsuccessful attempt to land in the Muslim
heartland at the bay of Mondello, 13 km from Palermo (Ahmad p.12). Rodriquez
places this in 849: see there for more on this.

Niketas, eunuch son of the late emperor Michael I, was Patriarch of Constantinople
847-858 and again in 866-877 as Ignatios. Ignatius (Niketas) had been castrated
and tonsured in 813, when his father fell from power in 813. Canonised; born 799
or c.797, died 877.

Reign of caliph al-Mutawakkil, who abandoned the caliphal attempt to prescribe
theological orthodoxy through Mu'tazilism (*), and gave support to Ahl al-Hadith
(**) piety; persecuted the Shi'ites; first caliph to be murdered by his Turkish
soldier corps.

(*) The school promoting a synthesis between reason and revelation. For
example, if a contradiction results from adopting the literal meaning, such
as a literal understanding of the "hand" of God that contravenes His
transcendence and the Qur'an mention of His categorical difference from
all other things, then Mu'tazilis say an interpretation is warranted. Other
streams in Islam criticise the Mu'tazilis for supposedly giving absolute
authority to extra-Islamic paradigms.

(**) Ahl al-Hadith scholars in Islam pay relatively greater importance to

'traditions' than to other sources of Islamic doctrine such as qiyas (legal
precedents), and tend to interpret the traditions more literally and

Italy: Autonomous emirate at Bari. A mosque was constructed on the site of the
cathedral. See 850.

Severe famine in Sicily: Probably because of this, Ragusa-in-Sicily* - in the SE:
inland from Noto - surrendered to the Saracens. The walls of the ‘city’ (read:
fortress-village) were razed to the ground (Ahmad p.12).

* Not to be confused with Dalmatian Ragusa (Dubrovnik).

Failure of a Romanian (‘Byzantine’) offensive against the Arabs in Sicily. See

1. N Italy: Saracens plunder the port-villages of Luni in Liguria and Capo Teulada
on Byzantine Sardinia.
Africa, Spain or Sicily?-Luni-Provence. Arab raiders plundered the Italian coast

from Luni to Provence: McCormcok 2001: 925, citing the Annales Bertiniani.

2. Italy: A small Greco-Italian fleet defeats the Saracens off Ostia.

It was rumoured that a further great Muslim fleet was being formed to attack
Rome from Sardinia. Prompted by the pope, a league was constituted among the
‘Greek’ maritime cities of the South: Amalfi, Gaeta and Naples gathered their
fleets to the mouth of the river Tiber near Ostia, the port of Rome. When the Arab
ships appeared on the horizon, the Italian fleet, led by Cesarius, son of the Greco-
Italian commander at Naples, attacked.
Midway through the engagement, a storm divided the enemies and the
Christian ships managed to return to port. The Muslims, however, were scattered
far and wide, with many ships lost and others sent ashore. When the storm died
down, the remnants of the Arab fleet were easily picked off, with many prisoners
The survivors were made prisoners (slaves) and they contributed with their
work to the reconstruction of what they had destroyed three years before, i.e.
building in the area Rome’s ‘Leonine Walls’, built (849-52) to surround the
Vatican. Today’s these walls constitute the western and southern boundaries of
Vatican City. The wall was 40 feet or 12 metres high, 12 feet [3.5m] thick, and
had 44 or 46 or 54 towers at bowshot intervals.

3. Sicily (or earlier in 847-48): The Byzantines tried a surprise landing in the bay of
Mondello, 13 km from Palermo. With the aid of 10 chelandia [large warships or
‘combat-transport’ galleys] they began a disembarkation but the troops became
disoriented and had to return to the boats. On their return a storm surprised the
squadron and sank seven vessels (thus Rodriquez).

4. (or 850:) Hludwig (Louis)) brokers a peace treaty between Benevento and
Salerno and departs for the north. Bari, Brindisi and Taranto, the erstwhile
Rhomaniyan or ex-Byzantine port towns in Apulia, although in reality held by the
Arabs, were notionally allocated to the two Italian lords: Benevento claimed Bari
and Brindisi, while Salerno claimed Taranto (Kreutz p.33). Cf 850, 852.
Byzantine dominion in Italy was at a low ebb: the emperor controlled just a few
towns in Calabria and lower Apulia. Several Arab warlords controlled most of the
toe and heel. Cf 850.

1. Sicily: The Saracens penetrate (850) the outer residential section, but not the
inner citadel, of Castro-janni (modern Enna), the long enduring Byzantine
provincial capital. After setting the houses to fire, they return to Palermo (Ahmad

2. Iraq: Caliph al-Mutawakkil deposes the Nestorian patriarch and institutes a

persecution of Christians.

849-52: N of Baghdad: Building of the great Mosque of Samarra.

by 850:
The pagan Bulgars were now thoroughly slavicised, speaking a Slavonic language.
The ruling caste originally spoke a Turkic languages, but in the two centuries to
850 this was replaced by the local Slavic dialect.

1. In Hagia Sophia: new post-iconoclastic mosaics, e.g. that of an angel (picture in
Fossier p.324).

2. Central Asia Minor: Ancyra is re-fortified, signalling the early re-emergence of

urban life in Christian Anatolia.

Economic plateau in the Caliphate: The total annual revenues of the Muslim
Khalifate were probably 300 million dirhams [silver coins of 2.97 gms] by AD 850,

down from nearly 400 million around 750. With the break-up of the Islamic
Empire, the revenues would fall to about 210 million dirhams in 919 (Fossier

Italy: Four Saracen columns departed from Taranto and Bari to sack Campania,
Lombard Apulia, Byzantine Calabria and Abruzzi. They were allied with Christian
Benevento. As always the main purpose was to capture slaves (Kreutz p.53;
Whittow p.306). Cf 851.

Constantine-Cyril, the future missionary: At the end of 850 or at the beginning of
851 he was appointed teacher at the so-called “university” (high school) in
Constantinople. There he joined, as a colleague, Photios and Leo the Philosopher,
his former teachers.

850-51: First Viking wintering in Britain. They will conquer East Anglia in

Italy: The western Emperor Hludwig (Louis) II forced a peace on Radelchis of
Benevento and Siconulf of Salerno and expelled the Saracen mercenaries from
Benevento (warriors from the Emirate of Bari, who Radelchis happily betrayed).
He divided the principality permanently.
Salerno vs the Germans: With the assistance of the Saracens and with the
spoils of the churches, Siconulfus of Salerno defended his independence, which
was confirmed in 851 by Hludwig (Louis) II, to whom the prince had sworn
allegiance. The chief towns of the principality of Salerno were (ex-Byzantine)
Taranto, Cassano, Cosenza, Paestum, Conza, Salerno, Sarno, Cimitile (Nola),
Capua, Teano and Sora. To the east, Bari was in still in Arab hands. Cf next and

1. Italy: The Saracen ‘pirates’ (slavers) of Bari “ravaged” Greek Calabria and
threatened Latin Benevento and Salerno (Ahmad p.19). Cf 858.

2. Armenia: In A.H. 237, AD 851-852, the Armenians rebelled and defeated and
killed the Abbasid governor. The caliph Al-Mutawakkil sent his general Bugha
[Bugha al-Kabir al-Sharabi] to deal with them. Bugha scored successes, and the
following year attacked and burned insurgent Tiflis, capturing Ishaq ibn Isma'il.
The rebel leader was executed (Tabari, trans. Kraemer p.122).

“The new army of the Caliphate, with its élite corps of mounted archers, proved
extremely effective. In Egypt, which had seen unrest and chaos, the authority of
the caliphate was restored. On the frontiers it [had] proved a match for the
Byzantine defenders of Amorion [see above: 838], and in Armenia the Turkish
soldiers led by Bugha the Elder in the campaign of 237/851-52 exerted the
authority of the caliphs with a thoroughness that had never been achieved before
and lingered long in the memories of the peoples of the area.” – Kennedy, Decline
and Fall of the First Muslim Empire, at

Egypt: Arab land raids into Anatolia from Cilicia are answered by a major Romanic
naval attack on the port-town of Damietta in 852/53 (Shaban p.77; Kennedy 2008:
337 dates it to the early summer of 853, i.e. at the end of Ramadan; McCormick
2001: 928 says 22 May 853). Norwich 1993: 57 describes the attack as the most
daringly aggressive naval or military operation since the beginning of the Muslim

The Arab writer al-Tabari says that Byzantium was able to deploy "300" vessels,

which would have included some requisitioned private ships, in three separate
fleets. Of the 300, “100” were large and small galleys: marakib and/or shalandriya
carrying “between 50 and 100 men” (Kennedy p.338; Norwich 1993: 57; and
Dromon p.47). Cf 855.
852-53: “The Byzantines made a descent on Egypt with 300 vessels. Anbasa
the governor had ordered the garrison of [the port of] Damietta [Ar. Dimyat] to
parade at the capital Fustat [present-day Cairo]. The denuded town was taken,
plundered and burned. The Greeks then destroyed all the fortifications at the
mouth of the Nile near Tinnis, and returned with prisoners [Tabari says 600 Copt
and Muslim women] and booty” (1911 ed. of Encyc. Brit. under ‘Caliphate’; also
Kennedy loc. cit.). Yaqubi, cited by McCormick 2001, says that “85” ships landed
at Damietta, the rest of the ships presumbbaly attacking elsewhere; the captives
numbered 2,920, i.e. 1,820 Muslim women, 1,000 Copts and 100 Jewish women.
At 34 women per ship this sounds plausible.

851-59: Cordoba: Spanish Christians are persecuted following a public

“slander” of Islam.

851-67: In Francia: fl. the Irish-born monk and philosopher, John Scotus
Eriugena, the only Carolingian scholar who demonstrably had a genuine
reading knowledge of Greek. Anastasius, the Vatican librarian of the day,
marvelled at the fact that this ‘barbarian’ (vir barbarus) from a remote
land knew Greek. (It is not known whether he acquired his knowledge of
Greek in Ireland or in Francia.)
Soon after completing his translation of Pseudo-Dionysius (c. 862),—a
tetx given to the court of Louis the Pious by the ‘Greek’ Emperor Michael in
827— he went on to translate other Greek Christian texts, including
Gregory of Nyssa's De hominis opificio, under the title of De imagine,
which provided Eriugena with an account of human nature as an image of
the divine, and possibly Epiphanius’ Anchoratus. De Fide. A number of
interesting poems survive which show the breadth of Eriugena's learning;
but also portray him as a courtier quite well versed in political affairs.
Some poems are written specifically in praise of the king, including an
important poem, Aulae sidereae [‘Starry Halls’] which appears to celebrate
the dedication of Charles the Bald's new church in Compigne on 1 May
875. The poems show Eriugena's fascination with Greek, indeed some
poems are written entirely in Greek.

1. N Sicily: The emir Abbas [Abu'l-Aghlab Abbas ibn Fadl ibn Ya'qub ibn Fezara]
raided Caltavuturo, a strategically important fort inland from Cefalu, and took
many prisoners (slaves) (Ahmad p.13; Metcalfe 2009: 14).

2. Bulgaria: acc. khan Boris: see 864. Boris was to greatly expand Bulgarian rule
across the Balkans …
Western Black Sea coast: The regency government of Theodora, in order to
have peace in the northern frontier, made some concessions to the Bulgarians.
Thus, soon after 852, when Boris succeeded to the throne in Bulgaria, he received
from the Rhomaniyans a belt of territory some 25 miles [40 km] wide, south of the
old frontier of Thrace, including the ruined coastal fortresses of Develtos and
The Bulgarians were also beginning to dominate ‘outer’ Macedonia (Skopje and
the upper Vardar valley), possibly from as early as 846. As we noted earlier, the
chronology is unclear but probably they had established their rule over the Slavic
sector of Macedonia by 860, as by the 880s they would be ruling as far west as
Ohrid on the border of present-day Albania. This development is poorly recorded
and the loss of these regions was not formally recognised by Constantinople until
the treaty of 904 (Fine 1991: 111).

3. Turkish invasion of Abbasid-controlled Armenia. See 855.


4. Puglia: Responding to aggression by the emirate of Bari, the Frankish king of N

Italy, Hludwig (Louis) II [Ludovicus, Ludwig] —he will become western emperor on
the death of his father in 855—rides to the south, but again he fails to take the
fortress-town (Kreutz p.37, Whittow p.307).
Louis campaigned against Bari in 852, 867, 869, and possibly in 847 and 866 as
well, but he only took the town in 871.

5. The first written mention of Croats by that name dates from 852, in a statute
(inscrption) by Duke Trpimir, the founder of the Trpimirovich ruling dynasty (Curta
p.140). The country was not formally recognized by the papacy as an independent
dukedom until Pope John VIII’s protégé Branimir conducted a coup d’etat in 879:
dux Chroatorum. See 868: Byzantine Dalmatia.

E Sicily: The Saracens under Abbas ibn al-Fad' raid in the neighbourhoods of the
Byzantine towns of Catania, Syracuse and Noto (Ahmad p.13; also Rodriquez). -
Catania is on the mid-east coast; Syracuse and Noto lie further south, Noto being
not far from the corner-point of the island in the SE.
Then Abbas besieges (853) Butera - inland in the central south: east of
Agrigento, NE of Licata - for five months and takes a large number of prisoners
(“6,000” or “5,000”), who were enslaved. Such slaves were taken to work as
agricultural labourers in the Val di Mazara, the west of Sicily (Ahmad p.13). Cf

From 853:
Italy: The Berber ruler of Bari, al-Mufarraj bin Sallam, occupied “48” ‘fortresses’
(read: walled villages) in Apulia and raided the territory of Naples. But the
Byzantines and Venetians remained dominant in the inner Adriatic; there were no
major Arab naval incursions there between 841 and 866 (Ahmad pp.18-19).

Cf al-Baladhuri: “After Khalfun there arose one called al-Mufarraj ibn-Sallam who
conquered and brought under his control 24 [sic] forts. He then forwarded the
news of the situation to the Master of the Post in Egypt, and told him that he and
his followers could conduct no [public] prayer unless the imam confirms him over
his district and makes him its ruler, so that he may not be included in the
category of usurpers. Al-Mufarraj erected [at Bari] a cathedral-mosque. Finally his
men rose up against him and killed him.” —Baladhuri, online (2008) at

1. Sicily: The Saracens took Butera near the south coast, not far from Licata; but
another source informs us that they besieged the strong place five months and
departed at last, being bribed to give up the attempt by the surrender of “6,000”
of the inhabitants as slaves. —Crawford 1900: 76.

2. Italy: Departing from Taranto, an Arab raid, led by the Sicilian governor Abbas-
ibn-Faid [Abu'l-Aghlab Abbas ibn Fadl ibn Ya'qub ibn Fezara], sacked villages in
the Longobard principality of Salerno.

854: MID-POINT IN THE REIGN OF MICHAEL III; also midpoint in the

struggle for Sicily: Palermo was lost to the Saracens in 831 and
Syracuse in 878.

1.Constantinople: The emperor’s uncle, Bardas the Caesar - Theodora’s brother -,
ousts Theodora from the regency and sends her (857) to a nunnery. The
logothetes tou dromon or minister for communications and foreign affairs,
Theoctistus, is killed by Bardas with the concurrence of Michael (aged 15), who
in theory assumes sole rule in 856. Cf 859. Day-to-day rule was in the hands of
Bardas. Among the offices he held was that of domestic of the Scholae or army
commander. Bardas’ brother Petronas became strategus of the Thracesian theme

[west-central Asia Minor] (Treadgold, State p.450).

On coming of age, Michael entrusts the government to his capable uncle,
Bardas, whose administration (856–66) will be marked by the missions of saints
Cyril [Constantine*] and Methodius to the Slavs and by the conversion of Tsar
Boris I of Bulgaria.
Michael's minority had seen the final overthrow of iconoclasm by his mother
[843] and a severe persecution of the “heretic” Paulicians.

(*) Born Constantine, he assumed the name Cyril when he became a monk
in 869.


The Paulicians were a sect of very unorthodox Christians. Constantine of

Mananalis, calling himself Silvanus, founded what appears to have been the first
Paulician community at Kibossa, near Colonia (Koloneia) in western Armenia. He
began to teach about 657. He wrote no books and taught that the New
Testament, as he presented it, should be the only text used by his followers. After
preaching for 27 years and having spread his sect into the western part of Asia
Minor, he was arrested by the Imperial authorities, tried for heresy and stoned to
The Paulicians believed in a plurality of Gods: the cardinal point of the Paulician
heresy is a distinction between the God who made and governs the material world
and the God of heaven who created souls, who alone should be adored. They
held all matter to be bad; rejected the Old Testament; denied the Incarnation;
held Christ to be an angel, and his real mother the heavenly Jerusalem: taught
that faith in Christ saves from judgment; denied the sacraments and apparently
believed in the transmigration of souls; condemned all exterior forms of religion
and refused to honour the Cross since they maintained that Christ had not been
crucified. They were Iconoclasts, rejecting all pictures (Cath. Encyc., ‘Paulicians’).
—See 855-56: Karbeas.

Overview of Michael’s Later Reign

a. This whole period is difficult to evaluate due to the distortion of the

‘Macedonian historians’ - historians who wrote under and for the benefit of the
subsequent Macedonian dynasty.

b. Under the command of Petronas, Michael’s uncle, and the personal leadership
of Michael, the East Roman army made good progress against the Arabs in the
East. Cf below: 855 ff and 863.

c. The period also witnessed important cultural developments.

c-i. The re-founding of the ‘University’, or better: high school in the Palace of
the Magnavra or Magnaura, the palace used for the formal reception of foreign
dignitaries (Jenkins, Imperial Centuries p.164). The Magnaura was located in the
south-east quadrant of the complex of buildings that made up the imperial palace.
Leo the Mathematician, aged about 65 in 855, nephew of John Grammatikos,
was named head of the University. Born in Thessaly, Leo was for a period
Metropolitan [senior bishop] of Thessalonica.

The historian Michael Glykas (fl. 1159) says Leo was responsible for the
mechanical constructions depicting Solomon´s throne, singing birds and roaring
lions. Moved by means of compressed air, these automata were demonstrated in
a room of the Magnaura palace. He also updated and sytematised the fire-beacon
system by which signals were relayed from the Cilician frontier to the capital. For
more on this, see above under AD 836.

c-ii. Constantinople re-emerged as a cultural and artistic centre with a splendour it

had not experienced since the time of Justinian I.

c-iii. The revival of Hellenistic cultural and scientific traditions was characteristic
of the age, evidently stimulated by a jealous interest in the Caliphate's
preoccupation with ancient Greek science.

2. Armenia: The caliph attempts to restore control: a large Turkish-led army lays
waste (852) but is stopped by the Armenian prince Bagrat in Georgia with Romaic
aid (855). See 885.

855: East Frankish empire: Upon Lothar's death, ‘Francia Media’, the
territory of the ‘Middle Franks’, is divided among his three sons. Hludwig
(Louis) II receives northern Italy and the Imperial crown, Charles receives
Burgundy, and Lothar II the remainder, i.e. the Rhine corridor from
Burgundy up to the North Sea: hence ”Lotharingia”.
Hludwig (Louis)'s title of ‘emperor’ has little meaning since he rules only
in northern Italy, and even there his reign is constantly challenged by
independent Lombard dukes and by the Arab invaders of Southern Italy.
He supports his brother Lothar II, king of Lotharingia, in a dispute with the
Pope, and briefly (864) occupies Rome. He subsequently submits to the
Pope. He also unsuccessfully tries to claim Lotharingia after Lothar's death.

Asia: The Paulicians fight alongside the Arabs. Their leader Karbeas, an ethnic
Greek, had been a protomandator or chief herald serving (in 843 or 844) in the
Byzantine army under the strategos of the Anatolikoi, Theodotus: Theoph. Cont.
IV.16. He was a convinced Paulician and decided to desert after his own father
was killed (impaled*) during the attacks on the Paulicians ordered by the empress

(*) “Impaling” (Gk anskolopismos) means being tied up and exposed on a

forked stake, and not having the stake inserted into or through one’s body
(Notes to Leo the Deacon, trans. Talbot & Sullivan p. 216).

With 5,000 Paulician followers, he deserted (843/44) to the Arabs, visiting first
‘Amr [Umar al-Aqta], the emir of Melitene, and then the caliph, receiving a warm
welcome (ODB: 1107). Thereafter his followers conducted warfare against the
East Romans with enough success to attract many more followers, for whom he
founded settlements at Argaoun or Arguvan, north of Melitene, and Amara
[modern Çakırsu] also near Melitene, and then, as their numbers still grew, at
Tephrike, further N of Melitene. Karbeas is said to have been the founder of
Tephrike: Theoph. Contin. IV 23.
In conjunction with Amr of Melitene and Ali of Tarsus [‘Ali ibn Yahya al-Armani]
he continued to raid the Roman empire; later he and Amr joined forces and met
the East Romans in battle under the emperor’s uncle Petronas: thus Theoph. Cont.
IV 16, and Scylitzes.
In c. 856 he fought with distinction at Samosata when an East Roman army
under the emperor Michael was routed while laying siege to the city; he took a
number of senior officers captive, later releasing them on payment of a ransom
(PBW under “Karbeas”).

PBW: About the time when the emperor Michael III reached manhood, and after
the overthrow of his mother Theodora by Bardas, an expedition was mounted
against the Arabs of Amr of Melitene (in c. 856; or 859); this ended with the siege
of Samosata when the Romans were surprised and routed by an attack in which
Karbeas played a prominent role.
During the following year when Michael supposedly led a large army to seek
revenge, Amr marched against him and they joined battle at a place called Anzen
or Danzimon near Tokat, NW of our Sivas, where the Arabs threatened the
emperor and Michael was allegedly rescued from capture only through the

leadership and bravery of a man called Manuel. Amr finally gave the signal to
withdraw, being short of fodder* and water: Theoph. Cont. IV 24.

(*) Although Arab (likewise Byzantine) army mounts would gain some
sustenance from free grazing while on the march, they basically were stall-
fed with grain, hay and/or cut grass (Pryor 2006: 15).

ca. 855-56 (or 859):

The emperor's uncle Bardas sets up a school, miscalled a “university”, in the
Magnaura palace: Leo the Mathematician taught philosophy while three others
taught geometry, astronomy and grammar (Treadgold 1997: 447).
Various dates are offered, from 848 to 859. It was formed permanently in or
some time after 843 when Leo was called back from Thessalonica to
Constantinople. Symeon the Logothete has Leo first teaching at the Magnauara
during 838-40, before he took up the post of Metropolitan of Thessalonica.

Increasingly fond of his uncle Bardas, Michael invested him as kaisar (Caesar:
deputy emperor) and allowed him to murder the co-regent and logothete of the
dromos, the eunuch Theoctistus, in November 855. Then, with Bardas' support, as
we have said, Michael III overthrew the regency on 15 March 856, and relegated
his mother and sisters to a monastery in 857 (Norwich, Apogee 1993).

1. The Pact which the Venetians had first made with Lothair of Francia in 840 was
renewed with Hludwig (Louis) II in 856 and with Charles III in 880. Unlike
Byzantium, the Franks accepted that Venice was free to act as an independent
power (Nicol 1992: 33).

2. When the Regent Theodora was relegated to a nunnery, 14 years after the
death of Theophilus, there were said to be 109,000 lbs [litrae] of gold in the
treasury: 72 nomismata made up one lb of gold, hence 7.8 million nomismata
(Genesius and Theophanes Cont., cited by Bury, From the Fall of Irene p.231). This
may have helped to finance the wars of Michael’s reign (cf 863, below).

Rhomaioi successes in the East: further naval raid on Egypt, and land offensives in
Armenia and Mesopotamia.
In 856, the general Petronas raids as far as Amida, modern Diyarbakir, in far
eastern Turkey as it now is: on the far Upper Tigris beyond Malatya, “farther into
Arab territory than any Byzantine commander since the 7th century” (Treadgold,
1997: 451). Cf 860, 863.

Treadgold 1995: 34 argues that it was due to Theophilus's reform of the army in
about 840 that internal military rebellions virtually ended and practically all of the
empire's territory became secure from raids. Cf 863.

Exchange of prisoners between the Eastern Muslims and the East Roman Empire.
As related by Mas’udi and others, the Byzantines had 20,000 Muslims in hand. In
the exchange, the Caliphate got back only some 2,200 people, nearly all men, the
rest being left unransomed (Toynbee 1973: 391). See 860.

Frequent Saracen raids on and in southern Italy. On the one side the Christians
faced the Muslims of western Sicily; and on the other the Berber emirate of Apulia
(Bari). Cf 858 and 860.



The East: Michael III took an active part in the wars against the Abbasids and their
vassals on the Eastern frontiers in 856–863, especially in 857 when he sent an
army of “50,000” men against the Emir of Melitene (Wikipedia 2010: ‘Michael III’).
In 859 (see there) he personally besieged Samosata, but in 860 he had to
abandon his expedition to repel a Rus' attack on Constantinople. Michael was
defeated by the Caliph al-Mutawakkil at Dazimon in 860, but in 863 (see there) his
uncle Petronas defeated the amir of Melitene and celebrated a triumph in the

ca. 857:
First appearance in the historical record of Basil, the Armenian peasant and
stable-attendant (born in Macedonia of Armenian parents), who will eventually
become emperor. He will be appointed, first, the head of the imperial stables
(857), and later grand chamberlain.
One of Basil's early patrons (before 857) was the wealthy widow Danielis from
the Peloponnesus. She had made her fortune raising sheep and using her slaves
to weave wool into clothing and rugs. See below.
She is depicted in the 11th century text the "Madrid Skylitzes" (Madrid:
Biblioteca Nacional) being carried in a high flat sedan-chair or litter by her slaves.
The latter wear knee-length tunics and very clearly drawn calf-high boots. This
dates to after Basil’s accession in 867. (NB: The Skylitzes MS was executed
centuries later and so may not reflect clothing styles of the 9th century.)

Evidence of large estates in the outer provinces

Danielis of Patras is described as owning “no small part of the Peloponnesus”. She
visited Constantinople on several occasions, carried overland in a litter by 300
vigorous young slaves who worked in relays.
She sought from Basil honours and spiritual favours that would ensure future
privileges such as the appointment of her son as a protospatharios (a high court
title or rank). Basil's Life pays great attention to Danielis' rich array of gifts - most
notably the locally produced linen and woollen fabrics.
“The gifts which a rich and generous matron of Peloponnesus presented to the
emperor Basil, her adopted son, were doubtless fabricated in the Grecian looms.
Danielis bestowed a carpet of fine wool, of a pattern which imitated the spots of a
peacock’s tail, of a magnitude to overspread the floor of a new church, erected in
the triple name of Christ, of Michael the archangel, and of the prophet Elijah. She
gave 600 pieces of silk and linen, of various use and denomination: the silk was
painted with the Tyrian dye [i.e. imperial purple], and adorned by the labours of
the needle; and the linen was so exquisitely fine, that an entire piece might be
rolled in the hollow of a cane” (Gibbon).
She owned lands “exceeding any private fortune and barely inferior to that of a
ruler”, which comprised 80 rural estates or ‘domains’ (proasteia) and over 3,000
slaves, i.e. an average of 375 slaves per domain. On one visit she brought 300 or
500 “beautiful” male slaves (of whom fully 100 were eunuchs) as a present to
Basil I, and when she died 3,000 were given their freedom by Leo VI, acc. 886, to
whom they were bequeathed, and sent as soldiers to Italy. Rotman p.129 regards
the number of her slaves as “unlikely” and Harvey p.32 agrees: “difficult to
This was barely half a century after the Peloponnesus had been recovered
from independent Slav tribes and made into a theme (c.810). Danielis was already
a grandmother at this time, implying that her father or husband came into this
fortune in the years after 810, when we would expect soldier-farmers to be the
dominant landholders in that region (Mango 1980: 48, quoting Theophanes

1. Michael had his mistress Eudocia Ingerina married to one of his cousins, a son
of his uncle Bardas. Following the death of this husband, Bardas began to live in

incest with his new daughter-in-law, or so it was rumoured, and because of that
the Patriarch Ignatius (846-57) refused him Holy Communion on the Epiphany of
857. —Leo Grammaticus 240; Pseudo-Symeon 667; cited by Garland and Tougher,
‘Eudocia Ingerina’ at;
accessed 2008.

2. d. Yuhanna ibn Masawayh, physician to the caliphs, was a Baghdad-based

Christian (Nestorian) Assyrian translator of Greek writings - from Greek into Syriac
and Arabic - on medicine, astrology and pharmacy. Died in Samarra. His name
was later rendered as Mesue by West European students.

Eastern Sicily: The Saracens again ravaged the areas close to imperial Syracuse,
Taormina and other towns (Ahmad p.13).

1. PBW: The empress dowager Theodora and her daughters were ordered by
Michael - now aged 18 or 22 - to be imprisoned in the palace of Karianos and
“tonsured”, i.e. forced to become nuns. This took place apparently in the
aftermath of the Gebon* affair: Nicetas, Vita Ignatii 505B. According to the version
in Theophanes Continuatus and Skylitzes, the empress was overthrown when on a
visit to the church and baths at Blachernai; her brother Petronas, sent by Michael
and Bardas, seized her and they had her tonsured with her daughters and
confined in the palace of Karianos; their property was confiscated and they were
only allowed to live as private citizens.

(*) PBW: Gebon was epileptic and mentally unstable; he arrived in Constantinople
in 858 from Dyrrachion dressed in clerical garb and claiming to be a son of the
empress Theodora by a man other than her husband, the late emperor. Some of
the populace of Constantinople supported his supposed claim to the throne, and
the authorities had him transferred to safe custody on the island of Oxeia; when
soon afterwards the patriarch Ignatios was deposed and exiled, Gebon was
transferred to the island of Prinkipo, his arms and legs were broken, his eyes were
put out and he was killed. This was supposedly an act of revenge on the patriarch
Ignatios, whose opposition to the emperor's wishes had earlier been condemned
by Bardas as evidence of support for the claims of Gebon: Nicetas, Vita Ignatii

2. Patriarch Ignatius refuses Michael III communion on the grounds of "incest" … .

3. N coast of Sicily: The Saracens receive the surrender of the port-fortress of

ancient Coephaledium, medieval Cefalù, whose name they render as Gafludi. Its
Greek inhabitants were allowed to depart but the fortifications were destroyed
(Ahmad p.13).

3. fl. Husayn, Nestorian Christian doctor, translator of Hippocrates from Greek

into Arabic.

1. S Italy: An Arab fleet from Palermo under Ali raids the mainland coast and takes
much booty; but a Byzantine fleet of 40 chelandia (war galleys) under ‘the Cretan’
(probably John Creticus, the future strategos of the Peloponnesus) intercepted it.
At first the Arabs were winning, taking 10 Byzantine vessels; but then the
Byzantines got the upper hand and captured 20 Arab ships (karabia) (Bury, Irene
p. 307; McGeer 2001: 931, citing al-Athir etc).

2. S Italy: The Saracens of Bari raided the territory of Benevento again; a new
Frankish army (from Carolingian N Italy) which came to the town’s aid was
defeated (or in 860). The Muslims pressed on into Campania and devastated the
suburbs of Naples; they occupied the castrum [fortress village] of Venafro and the
valley of the Volturno. Venafro is in the upper Volturno valley well to the north of

Naples, beyond Capua; and east of Cassino. Benevento paid tribute to avoid being
attached again (Ahmad pp.19-20; Kreutz p.38 dates the taking of Venafro to 862).
See 866.
– Historically the Volturno was navigable from its mouth, NW of Naples, up to
Capua; one may guess the Saracens rowed that far.

from 858:
Photius, aged about 38, is appointed patriarch: “one of the greatest intellectual
figures of the Middle Ages” (Dudley & Lang p.204).
His accession was disputed by Rome, partly on account of emerging differences
between West and East in customs, disciplines and doctrine, as in the Western
addition to the creed of the phrase filioque ["and from the Son"].
It was he who planned the missions to Moravia, which is our Czech Republic,
Bulgaria and Russia: see below under 862.

Photius: c.820–892?, churchman and theologian, patriarch of Constantinople, b.

Constantinople. He came of a noble Romaniyan (‘Byzantine’) family. Photius was
one of the most learned men of his time, a professor in the university at
Constantinople, and, under Michael III, president of the imperial chancellery.
The head of the sterner orthodox faction, Ignatius of Constantinople, was
deposed (858) from the patriarchate, and Photius, a layman, was rushed through
the stages of the holy orders and installed in the position. In 861 the legates of
Pope Nicholas I [the last pope not beholden to civilian factions at Rome] approved
the election of Photius, but the pope himself refused to recognise him. Cf below
under 864.
In 867, Photius called a synod that challenged the rights of the pope in
Bulgaria, questioned certain Latin practices, and challenged the pope's right to
judge the canonicity of the election of the patriarch. Pope Nicholas died [867]
without learning of the synod's work.
But when Basil I became Romanic emperor (867), Photius was banished to
Cyprus and Ignatius became patriarch again. Photius was condemned two years
later at the Fourth Council of Constantinople, but he reconciled with Basil and
Ignatius, and on the death of Ignatius, he again became patriarch (877).
Pope John VIII, acc. 872, recognised Photius as patriarch (877) and sent legates
to a synod, held in 879–80, which the Eastern Church counts as an ecumenical
council. This synod affirmed that Photius had been legally elected, nullified those
synods that had condemned him, ruled against the elevation of laymen to the
episcopacy, and agreed that New Rome (Constantinople) would relinquish
authority in Bulgaria. The acts of this council were apparently approved by Pope
John VIII, but without any retraction of his predecessors' condemnations.
Photius continued as patriarch until the accession of Emperor Leo VI in 886,
when he was forced to resign under imperial pressure; he died in exile.

1. Campania: Sergius, the duke of (semi-Greek*) Naples, gave his son Gregory the
antique title of magister militum (“master of the soldiers”). In May 859, a large
joint expedition of Salerno, Naples and Amalfi - all ‘post-Byzantine’ towns** -
marched on Lombardic Capua, led by his sons Gregory and Caesar or Cesare.
Lando I of Capua was incapacitated at that time and so his son Lando II took up
arms to defend the town. The Lombards defeated the forces sent against them,
numbering some 7,000 men, at the bridge of Teodemondo over the Volturno.
Caesar was captured along with 800 soldiers and led back to Capua in a triumph
(Wikipedia, 2009, under ‘Gregory III of Naples’).

(*) Greek remained the language of administration; but Latin and

Romance, i.e. ‘proto-Italian’ had become more influential. Since the 820s
Naples’ coins had borne Latin inscriptions.

(**) Ravenna had fallen to the northern Lombards in 751, leaving Calabria
as the nearest seat of Byzantine power. Not surprisingly, then, the duke of
Naples had preferred since 763 to recognize the pope as his suzerain.

Salerno and Amalfi were part of the ducatus Neapolitanus, but semi-

2. Apulia: An attempt was made to prevent Sawdan, the Saracen emir of Bari,
from re-entering his seat after a campaign against Capua and the Lavorno – by
Lambert of Spoleto; Gerard, count of the Marsi (in the Abruzzo); Maielpoto, the
gastald or governor of Telese near Benevento; and Wandelbert, gastald of Boiano,
NW of Benevento. But, despite a bloody battle, Sawdan successfully entered Bari
(Wikipedia, 2009, under ‘Lambert’).

The Hebrew Chronicle of Ahimaaz records that Sawdan, the last emir of Bari, ruled
the region wisely and was on good terms the eminent Jewish scholar Abu Aaron,
who spent six months in the town. (Aaron, who came to Italy from Baghdad
around 850, taught cabalistic Judaism in several southern Italian towns.) Christian
monastic chronicles, however, portray the emir as nequissimus ac
sceleratissimus: "most impossible and wicked". Certainly Muslims raids on
Christians (and Jews) – slaving expeditions - did not cease during Sawdan's reign.
-—Kreutz, 1996:39.

3. Sicily: (3a:) 23-26 January 859: Finally, after decades of struggle, the Saracens
under Abbas capture the Byzantine provincial capital Enna, medieval Castro-
Janni, near the centrepoint of the island, ending a 30 year quasi-siege. They call
the great hilltop fortress-town Qasr-yannih or Kasr' Yanni from the Gk: Castro
Yannis [‘fortress of y’Enna’], which became Italian Castrogiovanni, ‘castle of John’.
In truth ‘Janni’ was just a version of the antique name Enna and had no
connection with any John.

The besiegers managed to enter the citadel through an unguarded sewer. A high-
ranking Greek prisoner purchased his life from the Arab governor, Abbas ibn Fadl,
by undertaking to lead him into the stronghold by a secret way. With 2,000
horsemen, Abbas proceeded to Castrogiovanni, and on a dark night some of them
penetrated into the place through a watercourse which their guide pointed out.
The garrison had no suspicion that they were about to be attacked; the gate was
thrown open [by the entrants], and the citadel was taken (24 or 26 Jan. 859). —
Bury 1912: 306.
“Enormous” booty was obtained and the sons and daughters of the Byzantine
magnates were taken into captivity, some being sent as far as the court of the
caliph in Baghdad, or rather: Samarra (Ahmad p.13).

(3b:) A large Romanian fleet of “300” shalandiyyat, Gk: chelandia: large ‘combat-
transport’ galleys, under Constantine Kontomytes or Contomites is sent to aid
Sicily. The army landed at Syracuse, but was utterly defeated by Abbas, who
marched from Panormos (Palermo). Then (see below) the Muslims defeat the fleet
off Syracuse. Pryor & Jeffreys p.385 list this as one of the more disastrous defeats
suffered by the imperial navy.

Following the capitulation of Palermo to the Saracens in 831, western Sicily had
fallen rapidly to Muslim control.
The Byzantines adopted a strategy whereby they would protect their major city
of Syracuse and Eastern Sicily by keeping the Arabs at bay in Central Sicily.

The key to this plan was control of present-day Enna, located at the very centre of
the island: formerly known as Ar: Kasr' Yanni or It: Castrogiovanni. After several
failed attempts, the Arabs, led by their formidable emir Abbas Ibn Fahdi [Fadl],
finally managed to take Enna in 859. – Thus
The fall of Enna prompted the emperor Michael III to send reinforcements to the

island. As noted, a great fleet of “300” chelandia, which must have been nearly
the entire navy, under the control of the patrikios Constantine Contomites or
Kontomytes arrived at Sicily in autumn of that year. In a major naval battle that
took place before Syracuse, the Muslim fleet defeated the Byzantines who lost
“more than 100” ships. In spite of the defeat, however, the news of the arrival of
reinforcements animated certain towns that had capitulated before the Muslims to
take arms again. There were uprisings by Christians at Caltavuturo in the north of
the island: inland from Cefalu; Avola west of Catania; also Platani and
Caltabellotta, both NW of Agrigento; and at Sutera also in the central-west: east of
Plantini and west of Enna. The reaction of the Aghlabid army was quick, and, after
beating the local insurgents and a part of the imperial expeditionary army in
Cefalu, it forced the rest to re-embark at Syracuse, which allowed time for the re-
fortification of Enna and its resettlement with Muslims (thus Rodriquez; also
Ahmad p.13).

Andalusia and Provence: A Viking flotilla of “62” vessels, in Arabic:

marakib, sails/rows south to the Atlantic coast of Spain and thence into the
Mediterranean (859-60). Their failure caused them to give up the idea of
raiding the cosmopolitan powers; they confined themselves thereafter to
attacking the Atlantic realms.
The Norsemen conducted raids on the Balearics, Frankish Provence and
Frankish northern Italy (Dromon p.43, citing Al-Bakri and others). Cf 860,
871. The western Mediterranean in this era was dominated by the Muslim
powers; evidently the Norse found it easier to raid the Frankish realms.
The Danes returned to attack what is now Portugal in 859 under the
command of the Dane Hastein and the Swede Bjorn ‘Ironside’, two of the
most famous Viking leaders. But their 62 ‘dragon ships’ were no match for
the Umayyad forces. After the rout, the survivors slipped through the
Straits of Gibraltar to raid Malaga and along the Moroccan coast. The
Balearics were also raided. The marauding ‘pagan’ fleet went on to harry
the south of France incuding Nimes and Arles and Italy, where they sacked
the town of Luna on the northwest coast, believing it to be Rome (!). Some
Arab sources say they reached Greece and even Egypt, but Luna is the last
town known to have been atacked (Rolf Scheen, ‘Viking Raids on the
Spanish Peninsula’ [1996], online [2009] at
When they returned to the Iberian coast two years after their first
attack, they were defeated again, and Vikings never returned to the
Mediterranean (although there were further attacks on the Christian lands
bordering the Bay of Biscay).*
Of their original 62 ships they returned with just 20.

(*) Although set in the subsequent century, the 1964 movie The Long
Ships has Vikings fighting Moors. Captured by the Moors, a number of
Norse – including a kidnapped Danish princess - are condemned to
execution; but Aminah, the favourite wife of Mansuh [the Andalusian
military commander nicknamed ‘Al-Mansur bi-llah’, fl. 988] convinces her
husband to use them and their longship to retrieve a fabled bell. The bell is
found but other Norsemen now appear, King Harold's men [the Danish king
Harold Bluetooth d. c.985], who are out to rescue the princess, and a
climactic battle ensues. It ends when the bell falls over and crushes ‘Aly
Mansuh’ [Al-Mansur actually died aged 74 in 1002]. The Moors are
defeated and the Vikings victorious.

From 859:
Constantinople: Effective rule by Bardas, the Basileus's uncle [Michael was aged
19: see next]. As noted earlier, Bardas re-established a ‘university’, or better:
secondary school, in the capital to provide higher education for government
officials. Teaching was conducted in the Magnaura hall of the Great Palace. Leo
‘the Mathematcian’ taught philosophy and three other professors specialised in
geometry, astronomy, and grammar. There were other schools as well, but

apparently they had only one teacher each (Tradgold 1997: 447).

Michael, now aged 19 or 20, personally led an army to besiege Samosata, but in
860 he had to abandon his expedition to repel a Rus' attack on Constantinople.
In the year 1172 Sel. (AD 860/861), the regency of Theodora and Bardas sent
an army to Cilicia and subdued the whole district of Anazarbos; Bar Hebr., p. 142
says that because the empire was ruled by a woman, the Arabs held the Romans
in contempt and broke the peace. The dating is wrong inasmuch as Theodora was
removed from the regency in 858.

859-61: Completion of the spiral minaret of the great Mosque of Abu Dulaf,
Samarra, Iraq.

ca. 860:
The Aegean: The Muslim ‘pirates’ (slavers) of Crete raided the Cyclades and the
mainland, penetrating through the Dardanelles as far as the Proikonnesos (Sea of
Marmara) (Dromon p.47, citing Theophanes Continuatus and others).

1a. Asia Minor: Arab offensive from the East, supported by the Paulicians - the
sect of unorthodox Christians - under Karbeas or Corbeas, a former imperial army
officer. The Arab incursion under the emir of Melitene penetrated deep into
imperial territory; they reached Malagina, the great aplekton or ‘fortress supply-
point’ (*) SE of Nicaea (ODB ii:1274).

1b. Squadrons of the newly rebuilt Abbasid navy based at Tarsus were now
sufficiently strong to attack Antalya (Dromon p.62, citing Al-Tabari).

1c. A further exchange of prisoners took place between the Eastern Muslims and
the East Roman Empire. As related by Mas’udi, the Muslims recovered 2,367 men
and women (Toynbee 1973: 391).

(*) Food, fodder and arms were gathered at these points before a campaign was
launched. The main imperial aplêkta are named in a confused list of the 10th
century and confirmed by historical accounts of ninth-century campaigns. They
formed an arc running across the north-western and northern edges of the central
Anatolian plateau - at Malagina, Dorylaion and Kaborkin (Kavorkin) for the
westerly route towards Amorion and then on to Ikonion; at Dazimon, Koloneia and
Kaisareia for the northern route. Bathys Ryax, the modern Kalinirmak Gap on the
NE edge of the Ak Dag range - south-west of Koloneia and south of Dazimon - was
established as a base near Sebasteia for the march towards either Kaisareia or
Tephrike, further to the East. – John Haldon, citing Constantine Porphyrogenitus,
Three Treatises on Imperial Military Expeditions. Introduction, text, translation,
commentary (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae, vol. 28, Vienna 1990): text
(A); and commentary, 155-157.

2. Constantinople: In a surprise attack (see details below), pagan Varangians, the

Rus' or Rhos: Viking "Russians" – or “commingled Scandinavians, Slavs and Finns”
as McGeer p.208 no doubt correctly imagines them - raid via the Black Sea to the
imperial city in "200" canoe-ships. Such is the figure given by the Continuator of
Theophanes and the Russian Primary Chronicle. The Venetian John the Deacon by
constrast puts the number of boats at 360.

The Rus’ Attack on Miklagard, AD 860

The Rhos or Rus’ were intrepid traders, and commercial contact with
Constantinople was a primary objective, but it was not long before they would
turn their thoughts to conquest and plunder. The Rhos sold slaves, furs, honey
and wax; in Byzantium they bought silk, jewellery, brocades, fruits, wine and

On 18 June 860, at sunset, a fleet of about “200” Rus' vessels, according to the
Greek sources, came into the Bosporus and started pillaging the suburbs of
Constantinople which in Old East Slavic they called Tsargrad, Old Norse:
Miklagardr. The Russian Primary Chronicle likewise says “200 boats”. The date,
given by the Brussels Chronicle, is nowadays accepted as definitive by historians.
We know from Constantine Porphyrogenitus that in the 10th century a large
‘ship’ (sagena) of the Southern (Balkan) Croats contained about 40 men. Using
this figure, and 200 vessels, we may guess that the Rus’-led expedition numbered
of the order of 8,000 men.

The Rhomaioi fleet was absent, as was the emperor; he was then with the army in
Asia Minor. He had left on a land campaign in the East against the Arabs.
The Rhos devastated the Black Sea coast and attempted to surround the
capital. They also penetrated through the Bosphorus to the “Princes’ Islands” in
the N part of the Sea of Marmara. Two contemporary sermons preached by
Patriarch Photius make clear the surprise, the fury of the attack, the terror of the
Byzantines and how severely the hinterland of the capital was ravaged.
The chronology is unclear, but the raid or invasion may have lasted as little as
a week (some argue it lasted several weeks). No actual resistance is recorded; but
the Russian Primary Chronicle claims no victory and it has the expedition
returning ignominiously, so there must have been heavy Russian losses at some
point, perhaps during a storm (Davidson 1976: 118 ff).
The defence of the city was in the hands of the patriarch Photios, who
organised the citizens and, by parading the holy robe of the Virgin around the
walls of the city, inspired them to defend the capital. Almost as suddenly as they
had come, the Rhos departed, but their appearance came as a shock to the
Romanics, and much of the missionary activity and foreign-policy manoeuvres of
the time must be seen against the background of the pagan Russian threat.
Having ravaged the suburbs, and almost entering the city, the Viking Rus/Rhos
are defeated ( - or so Partington imagines: the sources do not support this
conclusion) by Greek Fire, but more likely by a storm. As he notes (1960: 31),
Greek Fire was a liquid, probably distilled petroleum, projected from jets that were
either fixed in brass figureheads on ships or manipulated to turn in various
directions. But Greek Fire would have been mentioned by our sources, and in any
event the Byzantine navy was absent.
The sermons of Photius offer no clue as to the outcome of the invasion and the
reasons why the Rus' withdrew to their own country.
“The weather was still, and the sea was calm, but a storm of wind came up, and
when great waves straightway rose, confusing the boats of the godless Russians,
it threw them upon the shore and broke them up, so that few escaped such
destruction” (Russian Primary Chronicle).
Photios led prayers at the Church of the Theotokos in Blachernai and then
carried the ‘omophorion’ [sic: maphorion, ‘shawl’] of the Theotokos down to the
sea with hymn singing and dipped it in the water; a fierce wind suddenly arose
and the Rus boats were destroyed: Leo Gramm. 241, Georg. Mon. Cont. 827, Ps.-
Symeon 674-675, Theoph. Cont. IV 33.

The Byzantine government thereafter created the 'Bulgarian archontate', a

special naval command of the coast between Mesembria, a Byzantine port-town in
present-day east Bulgaria, and the northernmost arm of the Danube delta
[modern Rumania]. Its admiral was called the archon Boulgarias [‘lord of the
Bulgarian command’] (Browning p.137).

3. The Frankish king of N Italy, Hludwig (Louis) II, again came down with troops
into Southern Italy but again accomplished little in relation to the Arabs (Kreutz

Italy: Further break-up of the old Lombard duchy of Benevento. Capua (rebuilt in

856) breaks from Salerno, creating a third southern Lombard-Italian power-centre:

Capua, Benevento and Salerno (Kreutz p.40). Salerno itself had broken from
Benevento in 839, a division formalized in 849. Cf 877 – Romaniyan Gaeta. And
887 – ex-Byzantine Naples.

Midpoint of Muslim rule in south-east Italy: the emirate of Bari. This marked the
high tide of Muslim expansion in the western Mediterranean. It seemed
only a matter of time before the Arabs would conquer all of Christian southern
Italy (Kreutz p.38). Cf 862, 866.

1. The papacy breaks off relations with the patriarchate following the deposition
of Ignatius in favour of Photius.

2. Mission to Khazaria by Cyril and Methodius. Cf 863.

The Khazar khanate ruled east Crimea and further east, which is to say: the
Caucasian steppe, the region between the Sea of Azov and the upper Caspian
Sea. They were a Turkic-speaking people who around 899 will desert ‘paganism’
in favour of Judaism (the royal Khazar court itself adopted Judaism in the 860s:
Rotman p.71, citing Zuckerman).

3. d. caliph al-Mutawakkil. Killed following a rebellion by his Turkish troops.

c. 861:
NE Asia Minor: A new Theme of Colonia, located inland, SE of Trebizond, was
created by separation from the Armeniac Theme. It extended to a stretch of the
far upper Euphrates River (Treadgold, Army p.76).

Iraq: In AH 247 / AD 861, as noted, the caliph al-Mutawakkil was assassinated by
Turkish soldiers who had come to form a sort of praetorian guard in Samarra.
For nine years there was effective anarchy as one caliph succeeded another in
quick succession. After 256/870, when the caliphate emerged from this period of
darkness, the extent of caliphal authority was much reduced. Cf 862.
It was left to the Emirs of Tarsus and Melitene, the border emirates, to deal with
the Byzantine threat. See 863: Battle of Poson.

Mas’udi mentions three exchanges of prisoners between the Eastern Muslims and
the East Roman Empire; no numbers are given.

1. Church schism: The Roman pope Nicholas, having received letters from both
sides, decided for the deposed patriarch Ignatius, and answered the letters of
Michael and Photius by insisting that Ignatius must be restored as patriarch, that
the usurpation of his see must cease. He also wrote in the same sense to the
other Eastern patriarchs. From that attitude Rome never wavered: it was the
immediate cause of a schism (Jenkins p.168).

2. Armenia: The caliphate restores some autonomy to Armenia: Ashot I Bagratuni

'the Great' is recognised by the caliph as "prince of princes" (but not by
Byzantium until 885).

3. Italy: The Arabs of Bari extort tribute from the monasteries of Monte Cassino
and San Vincenzo: both monasteries paid 3,000 gold pieces to save their buildings
being burnt (Kreutz p.38).

4. Sicily: The new Muslim governor Khafaja b. Sufyan arrives in Palermo. His son
Mahmud raids the neighbourhood of Byzantine Syracuse but is repulsed and
returns to Palermo (Ahmad p.14).

1. Upper Danube: The Franks pose a military threat to Slavic Moravia. The
Moravian prince asks (862) for Romanic/Byzantine missionaries with a knowledge
of Slavic to replace the Frankish Latin missionaries there. Emperor Michael sends
(863) the Thessaloniki-born brothers Cyril (original name Constantine), aged 35-
36, and Methodius, aged about 42. Although there is no reference to the
Byzantine Church's involvement, Cyril had been Photius’s pupil, so probably the
patriarch chose the two brothers. Their father was Leo, a droungarios (battalion-
level commander) of the Byzantine theme of Thessaloniki, and their mother was
Maria, who may have been a Slav.
After working among the (mainly Jewish*) Khazars, Cyril and Methodius were
sent (863) from Constantinople by Patriarch Photius to Moravia. This was at the
invitation of Prince Rostislav, who sought missionaries able to preach in the
Slavonic vernacular and thereby check Frankish (German**) influence in Moravia,
today’s Czech Republic. See 864/66. The extent to which Methodios helped his
brother Constantine create the Glagolitic alphabet and translate Greek texts into
Church Slavonic is unclear.
Cyril and Methodius took the road that ran, and still runs, NNW from
Thessalonica through our FYROM (then under Slavic tribal rule) to Skopje, and
thence to Nish, and along the Imperial Road to Sirmium and Belgrade and thence
up the Danube (Vanni, ‘Routes’ 2007: 7).
Later, in 867, Cyril and Methodius stopped at Venice on their way to Rome. A
famous debate took place there in which the Greeks defended the newly created
vernacular against the Latins, who insisted that the Gospel should proclaimed
only in Hebrew, Greek or Latin. Cyril and Methodius deftly pointed out that many
Eastern and certain Western peoples “render glory unto God, each in his own
tongue” (quoted by Herrin 2007: 133).

(*) The Khazars gradually adopted Judaism in the period 750-850. The first
unambiguous evidence that they, or at least the court, had adopted the Mosaic
law comes in 864-66.

(**) In 843, following a civil war, the Frankish realm had been divided between
the three grandsons of Charlemagne: the Frankish Kingdom of France or “West
Francia”; the Frankish kingdom of Germany; and the Frankish-Lombard kingdom
of (northern) Italy.
(1) Lothair I received the central section (“Middle Francia”): what later became
the Low Countries, Lorraine, Alsace, Burgundy, Provence and Italy, and the
imperial title as an honour without more than nominal overlordship. He ruled from
Aachen. (2) Hludwig (Louis) II ‘the German’, who was established in Bavaria,
received the eastern (better: north-eastern) portion, much of what later became
today's Germany. He held court at Ingelheim on the Rhine near Mainz. (3) Charles
II the Bald, who held Aquitaine, received the western portion, which later became
France. He held court at Liege and Compiègne.

2. The pagan Bulgarians flirt with the Latin Christian Franks (vs Byzantines). See
864. – Boris’s first overtures appear to have been made to the king of Eastern
Francia, Hludwig (Louis II) ‘the German’, in 862. The two rulers met at Tulln, near
our Vienna, on the Danube. Louis sought Bulgarian military help against his
rebellious son Carloman and Carloman’s Moravian supporters.

3: Caliph al-Mutasir (861-62) is succeeded by his cousin, al-Musta'in (862-66). The

period 861 to 866 will see five different people occupy the caliphal throne …



1. The Battle of Poson - a location not precisely identified: somewhere east of the
Halys River - in NE Anatolia: a conventional date for the beginning of an Imperial
counter-offensive against Islam in the East. Alternatively, the beginning of the
counter-offensive may be dated to 900: see there. At any rate, the victory at
Poson put an end to serious Arab-Muslim raiding in Anatolia.
The young emperor and his uncle Petronas, leading their troops in three very
large corps, achieve a major victory against a modest force the emir Omar or Amr
[Amr al-Aqta] of Melitene/Malatya, who is killed. Omar was returning from Amisus
(Samsun) on the shore of the Black Sea east of Sinope, so the battle would have
taken place somewhere between Samsun and Malatya.
Armenia and the Paulicians were also defeated.
“In a single summer’s campaign the Byzantines had eliminated [sic!] their
three most formidable enemies in the east” (says Treadgold 1997: 452).
“If there is one event which marked the decisive shift in the balance of
power between Byzantines and Arabs, this was it” (Browning 1992: 67).

Logistics and Numbers at Poson

Toynbee 1973: 300 ascribes the victory at Poson to planning and logistics: the
skilful convergence of the various East Roman corps at the right point at the right

Petronas assembled his forces thus:

[a.] On the enemy’s northern flank he posted elements of the Armeniakoi

(perhaps 3,750 men), the Voukellarioi (Bucellarians) (4,000), the Koloneia (1,500)
and Paphlagonia corps (2,500): subtotal perhaps 11,750 men;

[b.] On the enemy’s inner southern flank, he deployed some of the Anatolikoi
(possibly 7,500), the Opsikion (3,000), the Kappadhokia corps (2,000) and the
troops of the Selefkeia (2,500) and the Kharsianon kleisourai (2,000) (in 863 the
latter two were small military districts – but with substantial troops): subtotal
perhaps 17,000; and

[c.] On the enemy’s central or western front: Petronas’s own corps, the Thrakesioi
(perhaps 5,000), together with the Thracian (2,500) and Macedonian corps
(perhaps 2,000) and detachments from the four Imperial Tagmata (cavalry)
(8,000): subtotal perhaps 17,500.

Here the bracketed numbers, drawn from Treadgold’s Army (1995) show half the
troops enrolled in each named division, so that, using a thought–experiment, we
can crudely estimate the possible size of the forces deployed. The result is
46,250 men. This is quite close to what the contemporary sources say the actual
numbers were (see next).

Michael III is said to have led a field army of 40,000, or a third of the whole
armed strength of the empire. The Greek sources, which are hostile to Michael,
state that his uncle Petronas was the real general, but the Arabic sources make
clear that Michael, 23 years old, was an active participant. On the other side, the
Caliphate was capable of deploying a field army of up to 80,000 men (Treadgold
1982: 92).
The theme commanders, led by Michael's uncle, Petronas, strategus of the
Thrakesion theme, celebrated a splendid triumphal entry into the capital, which
took place probably in the presence of the emperor. Prominent in the procession
was the display of the head of the defeated emir and those of many of his
followers. A second stage of the triumph took place in the Hippodrome, with the
theme commanders again in pride of place. Although the ceremonial action fell to
the victorious commanders, it was the emperor who was ritually acclaimed as the
ultimate instrument of victory (McCormick p.152).
Halkin: “The patrician Petronas, brother of the Empress Theodora and Caesar

Bardas, achieved (863) a brilliant victory over the Emir Omar or Amr of Melitene
and pushed back the Muslim peril for two centuries [sic!]. The Byzantine
chroniclers add that the victorious general did not survive for long after the
glorious battle of Poson. What do they mean when they say, "for long"? . . . He
died two years and two months after routing the Arab armies, on the same day as
his spiritual father, Saint Antony the Younger, or 11 November 865.” – Halkin,
‘Byzantine hagiography in the service of history’, translated by David Jenkins:
Proceedings of the XIIIth International Congress of Byzantine Studies, London:
Oxford University Press, 1967, pp. 345-354.

John Haldon’s Account of the Campaign of 863 (Haldon 2001: 83 ff)

Haldon attributes the imperial victory to good leadership and the good
intelligence about enemy movements.

The joint forces of the emirs of Tarsus and Melitene, totalling perhaps as many as
15,000-20,000 men, penetrated through the Cilician Gates, pillaging and
collecting booty as they went. Kiapidou (2003) proposes that there were also
some Paulicians with them. Forewarned, Michael III had assembled two armies to
deal with the attack.
For reasons unknown, the larger part of the invading forces turned back once it
reached central Cappadocia (near Tyana), while Omar, the emir of Melitene,
proceeded deeper into Byzantine territory with some 8,000 troops. In the region
between Nazianos [Aksaray] and Nyssa [Nevsyehir] – in other words, NE of
Aksaray - they were attacked by Michael in person, at the head of about the same
number of men, probably drawn from the Tagmata and the themes of Cappadocia
and Charsianon. The Muslims called the area Marj al-Usquf, ‘Bishop’s Meadow’.
After a short clash in which both sides suffered serious casualties, the Muslim
army pushed on NE, pillaging as it went, to the Black Sea coast at Amisos
(Samsun), east of the mouth of the Halys.
Another larger Byzantine force under Petronas – Haldon calls him ‘commander
of the imperial Tagmata’ - followed Omar’s army northeastwards. Or rather “13”
different corps came together from various directions and joined up to surround
the Muslims at a point on the Lalakaon River (a tributary of the Halys) in the
border region between the Paphlagonia and Armeniakon themes. This was 130
km inland from Samsun.

(*) Kiapidou 2003 notes that he held the posts of both Domestic of the
Skholai and strategos of the Thrakesion.

From the west, Petronas himself brought the four imperial Tagmas and thematic
troops from the Thrakesian, Thrace and Macedonia. From the south came the
troops previously commanded by Michael (who had returned to the capital) –
those of the Anatolikon, Opsikion and Cappadocia themes and the kleisourai of
Charsianon and Seleukeia. From the north came troops from the Koloneia,
Paphlagonia, Armeniakon and Boukellarion themes. The Muslims were
outnumbered at least three to one, so Petronas may have had up to 30,000 men
altogether. As we noted earlier, a figure of 40,000 is not impossible.
Omar unwisely decided to fight rather then flee. Once surrounded, he tried in
vain to break through the Byzantine line. He was killed and his army destroyed.

2. Rome vs Patriarch Photius: cf 867. Pope Nicholas refused (863) to recognise the
deposition (in 858) of Patriarch Ignatius: Nicholas affected to excommunicate
Photius and claimed jurisdiction over all the Eastern churches. Cf 867: counter-
excommunication. This is called the ‘Photian Schism’.

3. The West: Because East Francia [the future Germany] was spreading its
influence in Moravia through Frankish priests who preached in Latin, in 862 its
ruler prince Rostislav asked emperor Michael III to send a bishop and teachers
who would bring the Gospel to the Slavic peoples in their own language.

As an expert diplomat, the de facto emperor Bardas understood the dangers of

a Bulgarian-Frankish alliance and immediately concluded a treaty with the
Moravians in 863 (Obolensky, Slavs p.44). What Bardas could clearly foresee was
that, along with the Frankish influence in Bulgaria, there was also going to be
increasing religious influence from Rome (D S White 1981, Photius, excerpt at

In the autumn of 863, in accordance with the usual strategy, Michael and Bardas
moved the army to the Bulgarian frontier and sent a fleet along the western coast
of Black Sea (source: Georgios Monachus Continuatus). Now, paralysed on three
fronts, his country enduring incredible hunger after the poor harvest, stricken by
plague and earthquakes, the Bulgarian ruler sued for the peace. His country was
helpless. The immediate negotiations were finalised in the beginning of the 864
with a treaty called the Thirty Years' Peace.
The main conditions in the treaty were: the alliance with the Franks had to be
terminated and Bulgaria had to accept the Christianity from Constantinople. The
territorial borders also were carefully outlined and confirmed.

4. [863 or earlier:] Constantinople: Re-founding of a ‘university’ or perhaps better:

high school in Constantinople by the junior emperor Bardas: a public school under
imperial sponsorship and with a secular curriculum. Leo was made head, and
taught philosophy. Others taught geometry, astronomy and grammar. Leo’s
colleague Cometas prepared a new edition of Homer, probably in the new
miniscule script (Mango 1980: 140; Treadgold 1984 p.87). See 950.
Gutas queries the tradition concerning Leo, that the caliph al-Ma'mun sought
to recruit him. Noting that al-Ma'mun already had at his court al-Kharizmi, the
founder of classical algebra, Gutas thinks that the story simply reflects the
Byzantines' jealous awareness that Arab mathematics was far superior.

5. Asia: Karbeas’s nephew Chrysocheir, a name that translates as "golden hand",

becomes head of the Paulician sect. See 867.

863-65: Civil war in the caliphate: In AH 249 = AD 863, after the accession
of al-Musta’in, elements in the military mutinied to press demands for their
pay, and shortly afterwards the Turks of Samarra (then the capital) led a
riot against the caliph’s financial agents. This resulted in the death of the
chief administrator and the payment of unaffordably large sums to the
soldiers. Another major crisis and more violence came with the war
between the partisans of al-Mu’tazz and al-Musta’in in 251/865, which
resulted in a second siege of Baghdad.

1. Sicily: The Muslims occupy the important and rich Byzantine town of Noto, in
the SE angle of the island, and later Scicli, a town further inland, west of Noto
(Ahmad p.14; Metcalfe 2003: 12). Cf 865.

2. Sardinia: A letter of Pope Nicholas I of 864 mentions for the first time the
"Sardinian judges" [judex, plural: judici]. Their autonomy from the Empire
becomes clear in a later letter by Pope John VIII, acc. 872, which defined them as
"princes". ‘Neo-Latin’ or proto-Sardinian gradually ousted the Greek language;
indeed it had probably always been dominant among the non-elite; but Greek
occurs in the official seals of the ‘judges’ down to the 13th century. – Encyc. Brit.
1911 ed., under ‘Sardinia’.

3. Important Arabic source: A. Vasiliev, ‘Harun ibn Yahya and his Description of
Constantinople’, Seminarium Kondakaovinium 5 (1932), 149-63 – text written c.
864; included in Ibn Rosta's Book of Precious Things.
Harun was briefly a prisoner in Constantinople. He had been shown around the

city at that time and was taken to the Hippodrome. He describes “two men
dressed in gold, each driving a quadriga [two-wheeled chariot] of four horses, how
they enter and race three times round the place of idols and statues” [the latter
refers to the spinal section at the centre of the long oval racing course] (quoted in
BBC - h2g2 – ‘Chariot Racing’, 20 Mar 2008 at -

4. First 'Russian' (Varangian) incursion across the Caucasus/Caspian to plunder in

Tabaristan and Azerbaijan (Wikipedia 2010, ‘Caspian expeditions of the Rus’’).

Bulgaria: Boris capitulated in 864 and by mid-865 had probably been baptized.
See next.
It was around this time that Patriarch Photius (858-67; 977-86) sent Boris a
letter in which he instructed Boris on the basic tenets of orthodoxy and exhorted
him to adhere to the principles of Christian rulership. Greek missionaries were
sent to Bulgaria to speed the process of conversion, but within a year Boris sought
to distance himself from the patriarch in Constantinople and sent a legation to
Rome to open negotiations with Pope Nicholas I (858-67) about Bulgaria's
movement into the Latin sphere of influence. See next.

1. Bulgaria: Hludwig (Louis) or Hludwig 'the German', the East Frankish king of
Bavaria and N Italy, invades Moravia. But Byzantium out-manoeuvres the Franks
in converting Bulgaria to Christianity: the East Romans insist, as a condition for
withdrawing their army from Bulgaria, on the khan’s conversion (865: baptism of
khan Boris). The result was a long period of peace with Bulgaria. See 865.
Byzantium at first insisted that, in order to become Christian, the Bulgarians
would have to abandon their trousers (Lat. femoralia: breeches) in favour of
“Roman” dress (tunics etc). Pope Nicholas by contrast ruled (866) that dress was
irrelevant (see Brown 1997: 319). – He explained that Greek practices which differ
from Roman are not condemned as such, and none of them bear upon doctrine.
Indeed Nicholas even corrects Boris's misunderstanding of certain Romaniyan
(‘Byzantine’) teachings.
Polygamy was severely condemned in Nicholas’s answers to the Bulgarians
(Obolensky 1971: 126).

2. Photius's letter to the eastern patriarchs: Rome's errors condemned. Cf 865.

Africa, Sicily, Malta: The ninth 'Aghlabid' ruler of Tunisia was Muhammad bin
Ahmad bin Al-Aghlab, called Abu al-Gharniq. During his reign the Byzantines re-
occupied parts of Sicily. He sent troops to Malta and occupied it in AD 869/870
(see there) and built fortresses and strongholds on the coast.

First ‘Russian’ (Varangian-led) raids on Muslim territories in the Caspian region.

1. The emperor’s friend Basil – already aged perhaps 54* - was given the high title
of patrician and finally in 865 he accepted the post of Lord Chamberlain
(parakoimomenos)**, a position which could support the suggestion, which is very
speculative, that Basil and Michael also engaged in a homosexual relationship
(the post required close personal attendance on the emperor, and was generally
reserved for a eunuch – which Basil was not). On this, see further 866-67.5.
If there is any truth in the suggestion that Eudocia had become the lover of
Bardas, it is clear that this situation had already been altered before the murder
of Michael's uncle in 866 (see there), for Basil the Macedonian had become
Eudocia's husband. The exact date of the marriage is not known, though it has
traditionally been placed in the year 865 (Jenkins p.195). Basil was made to
divorce an existing wife Maria, who was sent back to Macedonia with a suitably

generous pay-off (Garland & Tougher, ‘Eudocia Ingerina’).

(*) One line of evidence puts his birth in the 830s, i.e. in 835 or 836. If so,
he was about 33 when made Chamberlain.

(**) Lit. “sleeping at the side [of the emperor]”.

2. Bulgaria: A letter sent by Patriarch Photios in 865 made clear that khan Boris
was well aware that the Bulgarian bishops, all necessarily Greeks, would come
under the Patriarch of Constantinople with all the political implications thereof.
See 866-67 below.
Norwich 1993: 73 says Boris travelled to Constantinople in September 865 and
was baptised by the Patriarch in Hagia Sophia with the new baptismal name of
Michael; the Emperor stood by the font as his sponsor.
Cf 866-67: Bulgarian embassy to the Latin court of Germany.

3. Pope Nicholas I wrote to Emperor Michael III: "You ceased to be called 'Emperor
of the Romans', since the Romans whom you claim to be Emperor of are in fact
according to you barbarians" (Epistola 86, of year 865, in Patrologica Latina 119,
926, quoted in Wikipedia, ‘Names of the Greeks’, accessed 2009). See 866-67:
Constantinople purports to excommunicate Nicholas.

4. Sicily: Muhammad b. Khafaja, a son of the Muslim governor, leads an

expedition that advances to the SE nearly as far as Byzantine Syracuse; it is
ambushed by the Greeks and loses “1,000” men (Ahmad p.14). See 866.3 below.

Major Italo-German campaign against the Muslims of southern Italy. See below
under 866.

Italy: A Frankish monk named Bernard, with a party of pilgrims, reached Muslim-
ruled Bari on his way to the Holy Land. Kreutz p.39 notes – perhaps surprising to
us - that he expressed no concern or shock that this corner of Italy - “formerly
belonging to the Beneventans”, as he remarks - should be under Muslim rule. But
of course, it had been under Muslim rule for about a generation (since 841), and,
as Kreutz remarks, this must have seemed a settled fact of life. (Hludwig (Louis) II
– see 865-66 – took a different view.) Proceeding thence to Muslim-ruled Taranto,
Bernard and his group took ship to Alexandria in a Muslim slave-ship. He
witnessed “thousands” of Christian captives—supposedly “12,000” or “9,000”
Beneventans in “11” or “six” ships—being loaded into ships to be taken to the
Tripoli and Egyptian (Abbasid) slave markets, a fact that he did deplore
(contrasting numbers in Kreutz p.53 vs McCormick 2001: 134).

1. Asia: Photius wrote against the Paulicians and boasts in his Encyclical (866)
that he has converted a great number. But they remained powerful, especially in
eastern Asia Minor – see 867 below.

2. (Or 867:) Italy: Hludwig (Louis) or Ludovick II, the nominal Western or
Frankish/German Emperor*, who was also the Frankish king of Lombardy-N Italy,
attacks the Muslims in Apulia (the emirate of Bari).
Preparations began in 865, and the expedition departed from Lucera in the
spring of 866. Louis’s northern Italian troops take Venosa and Canosa, Matera and
Oria, but fail to capture Bari itself (cf 868). So he retires and, with his wife, tours
(summer 866) through Campania. The tour appeared to be designed to ensure
that Louis/Hludwig's attempt to take Bari from the Muslims would not be
interfered with by Arab sympathisers in Campania.
From Monte Cassino, accompanied by the duke of Naples, Gregory III, Louis
proceeds to Capua where he installs a governor from northern Italy. Capua it
seems was taken by force. Continuing on through Campania to Salerno, whose

ruler prudently welcomed him, Louis and his army then sallied forth (west) to
Amalfi (independent but nominally Byzantine), after which the imperial couple
sailed from Amalfi back around to Naples, which he did not attempt to enter. He
bypassed Naples and bathed at Pozzuoli, a village further along the coast.** The
tour ended at Benevento (Kreutz pp. 40-41; Ahmad p.20; McCormick 2001: 935).
He donates Capri to the maritime republic of Amalfi.

(*) Co-emperor with his father Lothair 844-855 [aged 19 to 30], after which
he ruled alone. He was called imperator Italiae ("emperor of Italy") in West
Francia while the Byzantines called him Basileus Phrangias ("Emperor of
the Franks").

(**) There was [is] a famous Antique bathing complex at Baia, west of
Pozzuoli, featuring warm natural mineral springs and thermal baths
believed to be therapeutic.

3. Sicily: The Muslim governor Khafaja led another expedition against Byzantine
Syracuse but met with no success, except that he captured Troina, located in the
central-north of the island: presumably it lay on his route back to Palermo.
Recently surrendered Noto, south of Syracuse, now revolted, along with Sicilian
Ragusa (further inland), but they were reoccupied by the Saracens (Ahmad p. 14;
Metcalfe 2009: 25).

4. Arab naval attack on Dalmatia: for details see below under 866-67.

From about 866:

The reformed army of the Caliphate is dominated by Turkish officers and troops.

1. Eudokia Ingerina was the mistress of Michael and wife of Basil. She gave birth
to a son, Leo, in September 866 and another, Stephen, in November 867. They
were officially Basil's children, but this paternity was questioned, apparently even
by Basil himself. The strange promotion of Basil to co-emperor in May 867 lends
some support to the possibility that Leo at least was actually Michael III's son
(Wikipedia 2009 under ‘Eudokia Ingerina’).

2. The Aegean: A fifth expedition to recover Crete was being organised when it
was terminated by the killing (866) of its nominated leader, the Caesar (Kaisar)
Bardas. His rival, Basil ‘the Macedonian’, the future emperor, murders him in the
presence of Michael III in camp at the port of Kepoi at the mouth of the Meander
River (Dromon p.47).

3. Michael adopts (May 866) the older Basil, aged about 55, and makes him junior
emperor. Basil’s transformation from peasant immigrant Imperial stable-hand to
Emperor had taken just nine years.
When it became evident that the emperor lacked the capacity to administer the
affairs of state, now that Bardas the kaisar was dead, Michael III proclaimed Basil
as his co-emperor and crowned him in Hagia Sophia on Pentecost Sunday, 26 May
866: indiction 14; Basil then assumed the effective control of the government:
Theoph. Cont. IV 43 (p. 207), V 18 (pp. 239-240).
Basil and Michael III ruled together for one year and four months: Leo Gramm.
228, 253, Georg. Mon. Cont. 811, 839, Ps.- Symeon 647.

4. Council of Constantinople: excommunication of the Roman patriarch Nicholas,

who is also declared deposed (he died before even hearing of this decision).
Michael and Basil presided as joint emperors.
To preserve an Orthodox Bulgaria, Constantinople took the most serious
possible step: pope Nicholas was excommunicated (summer 867). At the same
time the Frankish/German king of Italy Hludwig (Louis) was conceded the Imperial
title in the hope that he could thereby be detached from cooperation with the

5. Basil assassinates Michael [aged 27] (Sept 867) and takes the throne; Photius
is deposed ("Photian schism"); new mosaics in St Sophia etc. – Some scholars
have proposed that Michael’s homosexuality, or bisexuality, was the cause: he
taunted Basil, saying that he would raise another favourite in his place. But
Treadgold has pointed out (1997: 943) that four hostile chroniclers describe
Michael’s debaucheries in detail without even hinting at homosexuality, which
they surely would have done if they even suspected it.

The dowager empress Theodora was still alive when her son Michael II was
murdered (23 September 867); she apparently was then living in the palace of
Anthemios: PBW, citing Leo Gramm. 250, 252, Georg. Mon. Cont. 836, 838, Ps.-
Symeon 684, 686. Theodora eventually died during the reign of Basil, who
transferred her body to the monastery of Ta Gastria, where her daughters were
also sent to live: Theoph. Cont. IV 22 (p. 174), Scyl., pp. 97-98.

Michael III, having exhausted the treasury by his extravagance, had to melt down
20,000 Roman pounds (litrai) of gold ornaments from the throne room and used it
to meet his army payroll (Treadgold, Army p.128). At 72 nomismata per pound,
this represented 1,440,000 nomismata (coins).


Dalmatia: GO HERE for a shot of the 9th century church of St Donat in Zadar:église_saint-donat.jpg

6a. Dalmatia: Nicetas Ooryphas was in charge of the Imperial Fleet (droungarios
tou ploimou*). In this capacity he sailed with 100 ships in relief of Ragusa against
an Arab siege which had already lasted 15 months, and restored the imperial
suzerainty over the coasts of Dalmatia.

(*) The position of the droungarios tou ploïmou first appears in the so-
called "Tacticon Uspensky" of ca. 842, and the exact date of its
establishment is unclear (ODB: 664).

Arabs from Sicily attacked first Budva and Kotor (866) in present-day Montenegro;
and then Dubrovnik (medieval Ragusa) from the sea (867). But the latter held out
against a 15-month siege. And at the request of the Dubrovnik inhabitants, the
Romanian (Greek) Emperor - now Basil - sent Nicetas Oryphas or Ooryphas with
“over 100” warships, or some say “139” galleys (867 or 868: McCormick 2001:
941 says 868). Learning of this, the Saracens quickly withdrew (Ahmad p. 20; Vine
1991: 257; Harris 2003: 33). See 869.
Basil sent (867-69) two fleets: one to beleaguered Syracuse, the other to
besieged Ragusa. As noted, the latter succeeded in prompting an Arab
withdrawal; the former, however, after landing in Sicily, was badly defeated (869).
But Syracuse and Taormina were held (Ahmad pp.14, 20).
A theme of Dalmatia, with its seat at Zadar (Zara) on the north Dalmatian
coast nearer Venice, is first mentioned in 870; it was no doubt created soon after
the naval excursions of 867-68. By 871 all of Dalmatia again acknowledged
Byzantine suzerainty. But this suzerainty was loose: the emperor agreed that the
Dalmatian towns could, instead of paying taxes to the governor (strategos), pay
“protection” money to the neighbouring Slavic rulers (Harris 2003: 34).

6b. Meanwhile (spring 867) the Frankish king Ludovic or Hludwig (Louis) II 'the
German' or ‘Bavarian’, king of East Francia and grandson of Charlemagne - he
also held the title king of (north) Italy, - marches from Benevento into Apulia
against Arab-ruled Bari. He captures Matera and Oria, burning the first of these
(Matera is located inland north of the Gulf of Taranto, NW of Taranto itself; Oria is
also near Taranto, on the east: halfway to Brindisi). Having installed a garrison at
Canosa, on the highway NW of Bari, he returns to Benevento (Kreutz p.41; Ahmad
dates this to 866).

7. Bulgarian embassy to the court of Hludwig (Louis) at Regensburg in Bavaria: an

anti-Byzantine move, for Boris felt that the "Greek" (East Roman) clergy were
becoming too dominant in Bulgaria. The Pope tries to woo Bulgaria to Latin
Christianity. Cf 869.

S Italy: In his efforts to restore order in Italy, Hludwig (Louis II ‘the Younger’) met
with some success both against the turbulent princes of the peninsula and against
the Saracens who were ravaging southern Italy. In 866-67, as noted, he had
routed the latter, but could not follow up his successes owing to the lack of a
fleet. Louis was back in Benevento by March 868 (Kreutz p.41). Seeing the need
for ships, in 868-9 (see there) he negotiated an alliance with the eastern emperor,
Basil I, who sent him some ships to assist in the capture of Bari, the headquarters
of the Italian-based Saracens, which succumbed in 871.
Louis and his wife Engelberga take a 6-month tour all of Campania beginning,
as we have seen, in Monte Cassino in June 866, followed by Capua (which he
disciplined by removing a Lombard leader), Salerno, Amalfi, Naples, and finally
Benevento. The tour appeared to be designed to ensure that Louis/Hludwig's
attempt to take Bari from the Muslims would not be interfered with by Arab
sympathisers in Campania. Hludwig remains in Benevento for the next five years
(until 871). See below: 867.

To recap.
The Viking "Rus" (or proto-Russians) first appear in Romanic history in 860.
(Their major base was to be formed at Kiev, so we could just as well call these
pre-Christian rulers of Finno-Slavic Europe 'Ukrainians'.) Two hundred of their
Slav-style monoxyla - large canoe-like boats with oars and a sail - arrived in the
Bosphorus from the Black Sea, briefly investing the imperial capital before they
retired. They dispatched further seaborne expeditions in 907 and 941; the
Imperial navy repulsed these raids using Greek Fire.
For long voyages the early Viking-Russians built a light, open vessel called a
lodya. The Byzantines called it in Greek monoxile because it was made from a
single tree, usually the hollowed-out trunk of an oak or linden. Layers of planking
were secured to the hull to increase its height, and oars were affixed to the
planking. A single mast with a square sail made the lodya seaworthy, and it was
light enough, when the need arose, for overland portage. Although it seldom
exceeded 20 metres in length, a lodya often held a crew of 40.

‘Kievan Rus’: Medieval state of the Eastern Slavs, ruled by Scandinavians. Earliest
forerunner of Russia-Ukraine, it included most of present-day Ukraine and Belarus
and part of NW European Russia.
In about 862 Rurik, a Varangian or Scandinavian warrior, founded a dynasty at
Novgorod. His successor, Helgi: Slavic "Oleg" (d. 912), seized Könugard (our Kiev),
establishing the 'Kievan state' and freed the Eastern Slavs from the sway of the
Khazars. Under Sviatoslav (d. 972), Kievan power will reach the lower Volga and N
Caucasus. Then Waldemar: Slavic "Vladimir" I, r. 980-1015, will introduce
Christianity. Under his son, Yaroslav (r.1019-54), the state reached its cultural and
political apex, but after Yaroslav's death it was weakened by internal strife and
ultimately fell to the Mongols in 1237-40.


According to Treadgold 1982, 1997.

Treadgold is inclined to give credence to the perhaps controversial testimony of

the Islamic war-captive al-Jarmi/Garmi (ransomed in 845), and proceeds to argue
that the army of the mid-ninth century consisted of 154,000 soldiers and sailors,
rising to 283,000 by 1025. For a skeptical view of these numbers, see Haldon’s

article in Byzantion 48 (1978) 78-90; also Whittow pp.190-192; he proposes

(p.192) a total army enrolment of as few as 30,000 around 975 ….

Year Body Tagmata Themes/ Navy Remarks

/Reign - Land /incl.
guar themes naval
ds Includes themes/
cavalry and [oarsme
infantry. n]

842: 400 20,000: 95,600+ 34,200*** Some 120,000

Theophilus: (*) Four (**) cavalry Of which paid land
regiments each 70,000 in the soldiers
of 4,000; and two Asian including
infantry themes Themes.
garrisons each (Treadgold
2,000. Or 24,000 1982: 16,
if the Optimates citing the
(4,000 military Arab writer
muleteers) are Qudamah).

(*) The ‘Imperials’ under an officer known as the Protospatharius, lit. ‘first sword-
bearer’: Treadgold Army p.110.

(**) Nicephorus I, r, 801-811, enlarged the Tagmata, adding a fourth cavalry

regiment, the Hicanati, in 809: Treadgold 1982 p.71.

(***) As an indicative total, this was enough to man some 228 smaller dromons
(100 rowers each) and 57 larger dromons (with 200 rowers): total 285 ships.

Some expeditionary forces were very large:

a. Theophilus’s expeditionary force to the east in 837 is said to have numbered

50,000 or even 70,000 including Khurramites: “probably more than any other
expedition since Heraclius’ time” (Treadgold 1997: 440).

b. In his Eastern campaign of 863, Michael III is said to have led a field army of
40,000, or nearly a third of the whole armed strength of the empire. On the other
side, the Muslim Khalifate was capable of deploying a field army of 80,000
(Treadgold 1982: 92).

c. In 934, a combined Rhomaioi-Armenian army of 50,000 under John Curcuas, the

Domestic of the Scholae or commander in chief, ravaged Mesopotamia. Melitene
was captured. We may imagine, I suppose, that at least 30,000 of this number
were Romanic/Byzantines.

For comparison, in Late Antiquity, under Constantine I (in about AD 320) the
mobile armies of the east [the comitatenses] numbered about 100,000
altogether, not including the border troops (Mango p.34, Ferrill p.43). But never
on any one occasion did the whole mobile force come together. For example in
324 a field army of 20,000 under Constantine fought and defeated 35,000 under
So Romaniyan (medieval Greek) society was, if we ignore Constantine’s border
troops, perhaps equally mobilised for war as the Roman East in Late
Antiquity ….

959: 1,200 28,000. Note 1. 114,800 in 34,200 144,000 paid

Constantin Of which 20,000 the naval land soldiers.
e VII cavalry and Themes. oarsmen.
8,000 infantry. Note 2.

1025: 1,200 42,000 /sic/. 204,600 34,200 247,800 paid

Basil II Of which 24,000 oarsmen land soldiers.
cavalry and Nearly twice
18,000 infantry the number
including 6,000 under Con. VII.
Varangians. Note

Note 1: Tagmata of 28,000 in 959 (Treadgold): - This derives from an

interpretation of the Arab writer Ibn Khordabah, writing c.845, who seems to imply
that each regiment was 6,000 strong.
Heath suggests (1979: 12) that an alternative interpretation is that the entire
Tagmata numbered only 6,000 ie each cavalry unit only 1,500. This is unlikely, as
another writer Arab writer Kodama states that each Tagma had 4,000 men. And a
later Byzantine source (c.980) speaks of a minimum of 8,200 men as the number
that should accompany the emperor on campaign, which implies that the entire
Tagmata was larger again (Heath p.13).

Note 2: Enough to man some 228 galleys (57-86 large dromons and 171-228
smaller dromons). Cf discussion below under 882.

Note 3: The Tagmata was divided in about 959 into an Eastern Tagmata and a
Western Tagmata; this involved an overall increase to about 32,000 men. Then
John Tzimiskes [emperor 969-976] further enlarged the Tagmata, creating a new
cavalry division of 4,000 men called the Immortals. Then Basil II [976-1025]
created the Varangian [Viking] Guard of 6,000 infantry.

Over 247,000 troops in 1025: For comparison, under Justinian [d. AD 565], the
whole armed forces, including border troops, had numbered perhaps 347,500 (see
earlier). His empire was much larger than that of Basil II, so it may be concluded
that under Basil II East Roman society was relatively more militarised than in Late

Haldon, who takes a conservative view of numbers, concedes that “armies led by
the emperors of the ninth and tenth centuries - Basil I, Nikephoros II, John
Tzimiskes, for example - may have numbered on occasion as many as 50,000
soldiers, perhaps more, although such figures seem to be exceptions, and there is
a great deal of disagreement among historians on the issue, given the often
contradictory and partial sources.” —John Haldon, The Organisation and Support
of an Expeditionary Force: Manpower and Logistics in the Middle Byzantine

The early Bulgarian state reached its peak under its first Christian rulers, khan
Boris, 852-89, and tsar Symeon, 893-927. Bulgarian rule was extended, against
various Slavic chiefdoms, to most of the west Balkans, and there was even a
foothold as far west as the Adriatic Sea in what is now Albania.
Alarmed by the political and religious imperialism of Michael III, the Bulgarians
made contact with the Germans. But to avoid military intervention by the
Rhomaioi, Boris was forced (or he chose) to abandon paganism in favour of the
religion of Constantinople. He ordered the mass conversion of nobles and people
in 864, an act tantamount to becoming an East Roman vassal (Browning p.147).
At the same time he kept his options open by asking the Latin Patriarch in Old
Rome to send him a code of laws (AD 867). The contest was won, however, by the

Eastern church. Boris soon expelled the Latin clergy sent by the Pope and in 870
accepted a 'Greek' [i.e., Byzantine] as archbishop of Bulgaria.

Boris I (?-907), khan of Bulgaria (852-889): Boris unsuccessfully campaigned

against Serbia and Croatia. Under pressure from emperor Michael III, he embraced
Christianity in 865 and imposed baptism on his subjects. In 889 Boris relinquished
the throne in favour of his son Vladimir, who proved to be incompetent. The
nobility revolted in 893. Emerging from retirement, Boris deposed Vladimir and
replaced him with his younger son, Simeon, who received or assumed the title
tsar in 913.

Above: Basil I (left) and his son Leo VI (right). From the Skylitzes manuscript.

867-886: BASIL I; Gk: Basileios.

‘The Macedonian’ so-called.

Born in “Macedonia” (the theme of that name, i.e. western Thrace),

but probably of Armenian ancestry, Basil spent his formative years as
a Romanian (‘Byzantine’) exile—a civilian prisoner or slave—in
McCormick 1986: 152 calls his princely Armenian genealogy
"forged", but the tradition was current in the emperor’s lifetime.
Conceivably his parents were ethnic Armenians and not of princely
descent. (Or his father: al-Mas’udi reports that his mother was an
ethnic Slav from Thrace.)
He entered the high-living, hard-drinking circle of emperor Michael
III and was able to shine because of his skills in hunting, ball-playing,
wrestling and jumping, discus-throwing, weight-lifting and running –
and drinking.
Having become a high official and friend of the emperor, he was
aged about 56 when he became co-emperor. He was illiterate (ODB
He divorced his first wife Maria in 865 and by agreement married
Michael III’s mistress, Eudocia Ingerina, aged about 28 in 867 (d.
882/83). Eudocia's son Leo [VI], born 867, was officially Basil’s son but
possibly Michael's.

Basil renovated over 25 churches in the city and another six in the suburbs. But,
except within the palace, he built no new buildings at all. The empire's tax base
did not yet allow it to maintain an army and also build extensively.
Construction de novo had to wait until the 900s (Mango, New Rome, 1980 pp.80
ff). And it was not until about 1000 that an integrated system of secular and
religious education was re-instituted (Mango Ch 6).
In military affairs Basil attempted to equal the accomplishments of his

predecessor Michael III, or rather those of Michael’s generals, but he fell

somewhat short.
Basil directed considerable attention to Italy, where the Arabs had been largely
unchecked for some time. See 868, 876.
In Asia Minor the heretical sect of the Paulicians, under the leadership of
Chrysocheir, had become a military threat (867, 870). The situation was saved by
the destruction of Tephrice, the Paulician capital, by an earthquake and by timely
victories of Basil's son-in-law Christopher (873).
Basil's campaigns against the Arabs (e.g. 873, 879) had little result.
His best general was Nikephoros Phokas the elder.

Basil, probably aged about 56*, was crowned co-emperor in May 867 and was
adopted by the much younger Michael III, aged 27. This curious development may
have been intended to legitimise the eventual succession to the throne of Leo
[VI], son of Michael’s mistress, Eudokia Ingerina, who was Basil’s official wife. Leo
was widely believed to be Michael's son. As already noted, Basil then
assassinates Michael, on 23 September 867, and assumes the throne alone.
While emperors were to continue to be murdered by their best friends or their
wives, Michael was perhaps the only emperor to be assassinated by a
combination of his (former) best friend and his own pregnant mistress.

(*) One line of evidence puts his birth in the 830s, i.e. in 835 or 836. If so,
he was only about 32 when he killed Michael. This fits better with the fact
that as late as 877 (see there) he led an army on foot through the Anti-
Taurus mountains into Mesopotamia.

1a. Italy: Apulia: Proceeding (867) from Benevento, the Frankish emperor of N
Italy, Hludwig (Louis) II ‘the Younger’, leads German and Italian troops into Apulia,
aiming to conquer the Emirate of Bari. Louis' army captures (spring 867) Canosa
and two other Muslim-controlled towns between Bari and Taranto, namely Matera
and Oria, and drives the Saracens out of Otranto. But he fails to take Bari,
and by March 868 he has his troops back at Benevento (Kreutz 1996: 41, citing
Louis besieged Matera and Oria, recently conquered, and burnt the former. Oria
was a prosperous locale before the Muslim conquest; Barbara Kreutz thus
conjectures that Matera resisted Louis while Oria welcomed him: the former thus
was razed. This may have severed communications between Bari and Taranto,
the other pole of Muslim power in southern Italy.

1b. Italy: Naples: Duke Gregory III of Naples renounces his loyalty to the western
Emperor Hludwig (Louis) II and forms a new alliance with the Byzantines. He
acknowledges the Byzantine Emperor Basil I as his suzerain and begins to mint
coins bearing Basil’s image (Wikipedia, ‘Gregory III’).

2. Sicily: The Aghlabid governor Khafaja ibn Sufyan again (867) attacked
Byzantine Syracuse and Catania, while Arab bands crossed without opposition
through all of Sicily.
Under the year AH 244 /AD 866, the Arab chronicler al-Athir reported that the
Abbasid governor of Syria sent a fleet against Syracuse which encountered a
Christian fleet of 40 ‘shalandiyyat’ or warships: cf Gk chelandia, ‘fighter-
transporter’ galleys.

4. Photius is deposed as patriarch. He was deposed not so much because he was

a protegé of Bardas and Michael as because Basil was seeking an alliance with the
Pope and the Western emperor Hludwig (Louis).

5. Icons renewed in the imperial cathedral: the famous mosaic of the Mother of
God in the apse of Hagia Sophia, which still survives. “You might think Her not
incapable of speaking . . to such an extent have the lips been made flesh by
colours”, wrote Photius (Mathews, Art of Byzantium, London 1998 p. 43, and

The Caliphate: In Shawwal AH 253 or October AD 867 the Turkish

commander Wasif told the discontented soldiers to “eat dirt”, for he had
nothing else to give them. Shortly afterwards, he and the unfortunate
caliph al-Mu’tazz were brutally put to death - beaten and starved - because
they could not find the 50,000 dinars necessary to satisfy the troops.
-Hugh Kennedy, 2006, The Byzantine and early Islamic Near East, p.252.

Pacification of, and Land Traffic across, the South-Central Balkans

In the eastern Balkans, the overland south-north route from Patras in the
Peloponnesus via Corinth and Thessalonica to Constantinople was open at this
time, as is shown by several trips made by Basil’s patron, the rich widow Danielis,
in the period 867-869. She was carried to the capital from the Peloponnesus and
back in a slave-borne litter or sedan-couch.
This road had first been opened in 783 during Stavrikios’s grand campaign
against the Slavs; but it was sometimes, or perhaps frequently, closed thereafter
by Slav bandits. Even as late as c.820, we learn from the travels of St Gregory the
Decapolite that it was virtually impossible to cross the Balkans by land without
falling into the hands of Slavic brigands (Mango in Rice 1965: 111). But, as we
have said, the eastern land route was very safely open thereafter, in Danielis’
time, by 867. It would be definitively cut again for many years by the Bulgarian
conquests, beginning in 904-912 (see there).
Danielis travelled unmolested. Thus Toynbee, 1973: 93, has suggested that
either (1) the Slavs were less enterprising than in earlier times, or (2) the military
forces of the Themes through which she travelled were mobilised to protect her. A
third hypothesis would surely be that Romaniyan (Greek) farmers occupied all the
littoral of eastern Greece (including north of the Chalcidike: the no man’s land
where the theme of Strymon would later be created), and that the nearest hostile
Slavs were far enough inland not or know or care that Danielis was passing
through. If they did know and care, perhaps they were deterred by the presence
of thematic troops at and around Thessaloniki (a theme since 824) and elsewhere.
See next: restoration of the east-west route.

Precisely in 867 we also see restoration of east-west overland routes including the
highway (the ancient Via Egnatia) across the central Balkans from Thessaloniki to
the Adriatic at Dyrrhachium. Hitherto various Slav chiefdoms had controlled the
interior between imperial Thessalonica and imperial Dyrrhachium.
From 700 to the 860s, messages to Italy had to be sent by ship, around the
Peloponnesus; and in the month of December, when it was too cold to sail/row,
there were no communications at all between Rome and Constantinople. In 867
all that changed: in that year winter communications between the two places
resumed for the first time since Late Antiquity (nearly three centuries earlier:
see in this chronography under AD 578-88.) Specifically, Basil I wrote (*) to Pope
Nicholas I on 11 December 867. —McCormick, ‘New Light on the “Dark Ages”:
How the Slave Trade Fuelled the Carolingian Economy’, Past and Present, 2002;
vol. 177: 17-54.

(*) Basil’s letter has been published in Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima
collectio, ed. Giovanni Domenico Manse et al., 31 vols., Florence, 1759–98: at xvi,
46A–47C; cited also in McCormick, Origins of the European Economy, 549–53.

The far southern Balkans had been recovered already in the early 800s, so this
must have been a token of the (brief) reestablishment of imperial rule in the
formerly Slav-dominated south-central Balkans. Presumably Basil’s letter was
carried along the Via Egnatia to Durres (Dyrrhachium).

The Bulgarians too may have begun to penetrate into ‘outer’ Macedonia -
Skopje and the upper Vardar valley - from about 860, as by the 880s they ruled
was far west as Ohrid on the border of present-day Albania. Presumably in 867
they were still not quite at Ohrid, possibly in the upper Vardar valley. As Fine
1991: 111 notes, this development is poorly recorded, and the loss of these
regions to the Bulgarians was not formally recognised by Constantinople until the
treaty of 904. In that year the Bulgarian-Byzantine border was fixed at a point just
21 km from Thessaloniki (Toynbee p.92).

1. Rome and Constantinople: An embassy from the Frankish emperor/king of N
Italy, Hludwig (Louis) II, led by the papal librarian, Anastasius, c.810-78, who had
opposed Photios over the filioque, arrived in Constantinople. They travelled in the
winter of 868-69 through (newly) Bulgarian-controlled territory, i.e. along the
recently re-opened Via Egnatia. The ancient highway, as might be expected, was
in very poor shape, and the travelling was hard (Michael McCormick, Origins of
the European Economy: Communications and Commerce, 2001: 560).
The goal of the embassy to arrange an alliance by marriage between the
Franks of Italy and the new East Roman emperor Basil I. It was hoped that Basil’s
son would marry Hludwig (Louis)’ daughter. Anastasius remained in
Constantinople and attended the council of 869-70. He translated the works of
Patriarch Nicephorus [deposed 815] into Latin, and wrote a commentary on the
works of Pseudo-Dionysius.

2. Asia Minor: The soldiers of the heretical Christian sect of the Paulicians raid
from beyond the eastern borders deep into imperial territory as far west as
Ephesus, Smyrna, Nicaea and Chalcedon. See 871, 873.
The Paulician leader John Chrysocheir {Gk: ‘golden hand”}, Carbeas’s relative
(son, nephew or son in law), led a raid into the empire as far as Smyrna.
Under Karbeas’ successor, Chrysocheir, the Paulicians retaliated against the
empire in 867 by campaigning westward across the whole of central and western
Turkey (as it now is) as far as Nicaea, Chalcedon and Ephesus, where they used
the orthodox cathedral as a stable.
Under their leader Chrysocheres, they devastated many towns and villages; in
867 they advanced as far as Ephesus, and took many priests prisoners. In 868 the
emperor Basil dispatched Petrus Siculus (’Peter the Sicilian’) to arrange for their
The emperor Basil I sent an embassy under Peter the Sicilian (as he was later
known: he retired to Sicily after 871) to Chrysocheir to ransom captives and to
offer an alliance. Chrysocheir reportedly responded by saying, “Let the emperor, if
he desires peace, abdicate the East and retire to rule in the West. If he refuses,
the servants of the Lord [i.e. the Paulicians] will drive him from the throne.” Peter
learned that the Paulicians in Melitene were in contact with their counterparts in


Haldon 2001: 50 remarks that Basil’s army was unsuccessful in sieges of Tephrike
and Melitene because the Paulicians and Arabs respectively were warned of the
advance of the Byzantine attack and were well stocked with essentials as well as
having good water supplies. It was the besieging army that ran out of supplies,
having stripped the surrounding countryside to maintain itself.

The Adriatic: As we saw, an imperial fleet is dispatched to raise a siege of Ragusa
- modern Dubrovnik, then part of Byzantine Dalmatia - by a Saracen fleet in late
867. Then Bari in Italy was invested (867-68) and finally recaptured from the
Saracens by a joint Byzantine-Frankish-Lombard force, in early 871. The
Dalmatians, i.e. the imperial towns of Romance-speaking Dalmatia, the Serbs and
others (nominal subjects of Byzantium) contributed soldiers and ships, and the

Croats as nominal subjects of Hludwig (Louis) sent a few regular ships and ground
troops ferried over on Ragusan vessels. See 867.

“The fortress of Bari was invested (867) by the infantry of the Franks, and by the
cavalry and galleys of the Greeks; and, after a defence of four years, the Arabian
[recte: Berber] emir submitted (871) to the clemency of [the Frankish emperor]
Lewis, who commanded in person the operations of the siege”, writes Gibbon, in
his Decline and Fall.
The years 867-71 saw unusually close cooperation of the Franks and Greeks to
the advantage of the Papacy against the Saracens in South Italy and on the
Dalmatian coast. Cf below: 868-69 and 870. Thus Byzantine prestige was
exceptionally high along the Adriatic coast, and the Slavs of Dalmatia were taking
employment in the Byzantine as well as in the Frankish forces.
Rhomaioi administration was re-established, as we have seen, in Dalmatia -
our coastal Croatia - by 870 as a Theme, and imperial rule was gradually
reimposed in South Italy, partly as a protectorate over local Lombard princelings.

2. The Paulicians: Peter of Sicily’s (see 868) knowledge was based on his official
investigation associated with his diplomatic mission to the Paulicians between 867
and 871, evidently before he entered monastic life and settled in Sicily.

The Bulgarian state advances into the west-central Balkans. Ohrid in today’s
FYROM was taken in 867 according to the Wikipedia authors (2010).* In the
process the Bulgarians must also have assumed control of most of the great
highway, the Via Egnatia.** Most the region had been controlled by the
Berzites/Berzetes and other independent Slavic chiefdoms. Direct imperial rule
had extended only a little east from Durres (Dyrrhachium) and a little west from
Thessalonica. See below, 879-89.

(*) The name Ohrid (on the ruined antique site of Lychnidos) first appears in a
Constantinopolitan document dating to 879. Specifically a (Greek) Bishop of
Ohrid, under that name, signed the acts of the Council of Constantinople of 879-
80 (Vlasto 1970: 166). The town’s first Slav (Bulgarian) bishop, following the
expulsion of the Greek clergy, was Naum of Preslav, from 893/94.

(**) As noted above, the winter 867-68 also saw the reopening of the east-west
land route from Thessalonica to Dyrrhachium (Durres). This is known from a letter
that reached the Pope from the Emperor in winter, when travel by ship was not

1. The pagan Serbs accept Christianity. Unlike in Bulgaria, Constantinople
imposed real political vassalage on the Serbs (Obolensky p.135). Cf 878 and 1219.
The early history of Christianity in Serbia (Raska) is obscure, but it seems that
Byzantine missionaries who travelled from Ragusa (Dubrovnik) established the
first local bishopric after 871, during the reign [c.850-892] of Mutimir, himself
originally a pagan. The bishop of Raska was subordinate to the Greek archbishop
of either Split or Durres (Dyrrhachium) (it is not known which).—Vlasto 1970: 207
Serbia lay between Western and Eastern Christianity, with Rome and
Constantinople competing to win the religious allegiance of the adjoining
Bulgarian state. It is probable, but not certain, that Prince Mutimir was the same
as the Mutimir 'dux Sclaviniae', to whom Pope John VIII sent a letter about 873,
asking him to follow the example of his ancestors and to turn back to the
ecclesiastical province of Pannonia, “where now, by the help of God, the new
metropolitan [senior bishop] is appointed”, meaning Methodius of Cyril &
Methodius fame.
The throne of Raska was taken in 892 by Petar (Peter) Gojnikovich. The name
Peter is Christian; suggesting that Christianity had started to permeate into

Serbia, undoubtedly through Serbia’s contacts with the Bulgarians and

Byzantines. Petar secured himself on the throne (after fending off a challenge
from Klonimir, son of Stojmir) and was recognised by khan Symeon of Bulgaria.

2. The East: Local rulers break free from the Abbasid caliphate in Iraq: Saffarid
rulers take control in Iran and Tulunid governors in Egypt.

1a. S Italy: The Western Emperor Ludovicus or Hludwig (Louis) II ‘the Young’
drives the Saracens from Canosa, Venosa, Matera, and part of Calabria and placed
his own garrisons there. (As noted earlier under 867, Kreutz dates the capture of
Matera to 867.) Bari could not be taken because Louis lacked a fleet: see next.

1b. At Benevento, Louis receives a Byzantine embassy. Negotiations begin

between Basil and Louis about a combined operation against Muslim-ruled Bari.
Louis needed Romaniyan (Greek) naval support; and a marriage alliance was
discussed (Kreutz p.42). See 869.

2. Sicily: Following maneouvres in the Adriatic, a detachment of the Rhomaniyan

imperial fleet appeared in Sicilian waters in 868. After disembarking, its troops
faced the troops of Khafaja ibn Sufyan, and were defeated completely, leaving
behind much baggage, arms and horses in abundance. Encouraged by this
victory, Khafaja sent to his son Muhammad to the Italian peninsula where he
sacked the territories of Gaeta, on the coast above Naples, before returning to
Palermo (thus Rodriquez; also Treadgold 1997: 456).

3. The Caliphate: d. al-Gahiz or Jahiz, court propagandist to the caliphs of

Baghdad-Samarra. He had argued for a distinction between - as he saw it - the
inferior “new Romans” (Rumi), the Christian Byzantines, and their superior
ancestors, the ancient pagan Hellenes (Yunani) and pre-Christian Romans. Some
others were more generous, at least after the ‘Macedonian renaissance’ of the
10th century: Al-Tawidhi, d. 1023, would write that the Byzantines excelled in
science and wisdom, ‘knowing nothing else’ (El Cheikh 2004: 109).

c. 868:
Asia: Petrus Siculus or Peter ‘of Sicily’, writing c. 868 or ?870: He had visited the
Paulician fortress Tephrike to treat for the release of Byzantine prisoners: see
above, 843/44. His History of the Manicheans is dedicated to the archbishop of
Bulgaria, whither the Paulicians were sending missionaries (Cath. Encyc. s.v.
Petrus Siculus was a monk (in later life) and learned nobleman, who in AD 870
was sent as a legate from the Romanian (‘Byzantine’) emperor Basil I to the
Paulicians, negotiating for an exchange of prisoners. He stayed in the Paulician
city of Tephrike/Tibrica, now Divrigi, on the far upper Euphrates, for nine months.
His Historia Manichaeorum qui Pauliciani dicuntur [the Latin name of the original
Greek text] is one of the main sources for the history of the Paulician sect.

As described earlier: Romanic/Byzantine expeditions to lower Dalmatia, present-
day Montenegro, and Sicily against the Muslims. At the request of the Dubrovnik
(Ragusa) inhabitants, the Romaniyan (Greek) Emperor (now Basil) sent Nicetas
Oryphas with “over 100” warships; some say “139” galleys (867 or 868).
Learning of this, the Saracens quickly withdrew from Ragusa (Ahmad p. 20; Vine
1991: 257; Harris 2003: 33).
The imperials fleet that then proceeded (September 869) from Ragusa to Bari
comprised “400” ships if the Annales Bertiniani are to be trusted (Kreutz p.44).
One imagines that the imperial vessels were supplemented with Venetian,
Dalmatian and even Slav ships.

To reach the Ionian-Adriatic Sea, Admiral Niketas Oryphas had his whole fleet of
‘100’ dromons dragged overland (868) from the Aegean across the Isthmus
of Corinth in a quickly executed operation. This took place most likely on a
different route from the rail-track crossing-point of Antiquity. The distance was (is)
about seven km. —R M Cook, ‘Archaic Greek Trade: Three Conjectures 1. The
Diolkos’, The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 99 (1979), pp. 152–155 (152); also M
J T Lewis, "Railways in the Greek and Roman world", in Guy, A. and Rees, J., eds,
Early Railways. A Selection of Papers from the First International Early Railways
Conference (2001), pp. 8–19 (at 8 & 15).

Failed Arab siege of Ragusa/Dubrovnik (868): a Romanian (Greek) theme of

Dalmatia was established by 878; perhaps as early as 868. The earliest surviving
mention of it comes in 870; Treadgold proposes that only officials were sent, i.e.
no garrison of regular troops was established, its creation simply being “a sort of
pledge to defend the region” (1997: 456).
The thematic capital was at Zadar/Jadera, classical Iader, NW of Trogir and
Split: about midpoint on the coast of present-day Croatia. The main centres were,
from NW to SE: the islands of Krk [Italian Veglia], Cres [It. Cherso] and Rab [It.
Arbe]; and the mainland coastal towns of Zadar [Zara], Trogir [It. Trau], Split
[Spalato, Aspalaton], Dubrovnik (medieval Ragusa) and Kotor (Cattaro). The last
was in what is now Montenegro.
The native language was Dalmatian, a Romance tongue descended from Late
Vulgar Latin, while Slavic languages dominated the interior.
Basil formed an alliance (868-69) with the Pope and the Frankish emperor to
besiege Arab-held Bari; dissension on the Christian side led to failure (869: see
below). The people of Ragusa [Dubrovnik] shipped (869) ‘proto-Croatian’ and
other Slavonic soldiers to take part in the (aborted) liberation of Bari from the
Saracens. See also 887.

Egypt: Ahmad ben Tulun, a Turk, establishes the ‘Tulunid’ State, which lasted
from 868 to 906 AD. During this period, Syria enjoyed a measure of stability and
prosperity. See 871.
He acted largely independently of the caliphate in Iraq, and extended his power
as far as Syria and into the Hejaz. He built a strong fleet - some 100 warships and
100 other vessels - so as to maintain his hold on Syria: his navy was a defence
against both the ‘Abbasid caliphs and the Byzantines (Pryor in Gardiner 2004:
107). See 892.

The West: Basil sends Nicetas Ooryphas from Corinth with a fleet of supposedly
“400” ships to Italy, to aid the German emperor Hludwig (Louis) who is besieging
Muslim-ruled Bari (‘400’ according to the Frankish chronicle called the Annales
Bertiniani: McCormick 2001: 942). The actual number of galleys may have been
more like 40 [cf below: enlarging of the navy c.870].
Ooryphas led the Byzantine fleet that sailed in support of Louis II who was
besieging Bari, but on arriving there, he found the Frankish army dispersed in
winter quarters, and caused a diplomatic episode possibly by referring to Louis,
who claimed the title of Emperor of the Romans, merely as "king". As a result of
the quarrel, the main part of the Byzantine force left, without participating in the
siege of the city.
The joint Byzantine-German attack was scheduled for the late summer of 869
and Louis remained in Benevento to the end June in order to plan it. The
Byzantine fleet - 400 ships if we may believe the Annales Bertiniani – arrived
under the command of Nicetas, expecting that Ludovic would immediately grant
the hand of his daughter. In fact he refused the engagement, for reasons we do
not know. Perhaps Nicetas refused to recognize Ludovic’s imperial dignity, as
Ludovic wrote in a letter about the "insulting offer" of the commander. Perhaps,

however, the fleet simply fell too much behind schedule, in autumn, and judged
that it had to retire before winter came on.
In any event Hludwig (Louis) refused to hand over his daughter, promised as a
bride, and Nicetas’s ships simply rowed away … Hludwig (Louis) fails to take Bari,
and the Muslims raid into Lombardic northern Apulia as far as Gargano (Kreutz
p.44; Ahmad p.20). See 871.

2. Eastern Sicily: Failed Muslim attacks on Taormina and Syracuse. Khafaja [sic:
“Jafaga” in Rodriquez’s ‘spanish’ spelling] made the first serious attempt to seize
Byzantine Taormina on the upper east coast but his attack finished in failure. A
few months later his troops were defeated by the Byzantines near Syracuse.
Eager to take revenge, Jafaga led his troops to besiege the city but in June he
returned to Palermo. This was his last exploit: on the return journey he was
assassinated by one of his Berber soldiers, possibly bribed by the Byzantines who
wished at all costs to eliminate a frightful enemy (thus Rodriquez; also Ahmad
At this time the Byzantines held only the immediate environs of Syracuse and a
strip of territory along the east coast, running from Catania and Taormina and
thence to Rametta or Rometta and Messina in the NE.

Map of Sicily in 870: GO HERE:

3. On 9 February 869 an earthquake damaged the western side of Hagia Sophia. It

was repaired in 870.

4. As noted, the Paulicians raided into Asia Minor and attacked Ephesus and
Nicaea. During this raid, Chrysocheir captured and sacked Ephesus, where he
desecrated the church of St John the Theologian by using it as a stable. Runciman,
The Medieval Manichee. A Study of the Christian Dualist Heresy (Cambridge 1947,
reprinted 1955), p. 42, dates the raid of Chrysocheir in the Thracesian theme and
Ephesus to 867 or 868.

Papermaking and stationery were significant businesses in Baghdad.

Ahmad ibn Abi Tahir, 819-893, the teacher, writer, and paper dealer, was
established at the Suq al-Warraqin (the Stationers' Market), a street which
was lined with more than 100 paper- and booksellers' shops.

Western Mediterranean: An Aghlabid naval party commanded by Ahmed ben
Omar [Ahmad b. ‘Umar] captures Malta - located SE of Sicily - in 869. The naval
expedition embarked from the main bases in Ifriqiya (Tunis, Sousse, Sidi Daoud or
Kelibia) and also included reinforcements from Sicily.
The Byzantines rushed to the island’s rescue and laid siege to the Muslim
garrison. This siege must have gone on for some weeks, if not months, because
the attackers had to inform Abu ‘Abd Allah, who was presumably in the Maghreb,
and the latter then asked his agent (‘amil) in Sicily, Muhammad Ibn Hafagah
[Khafaja], to send a new leader (wali). The new Muslim army sent from Sicily
surprised the imperialists on 29 August 870 and caused them to withdraw, thus
assuring Arab dominion of the island (Ahmad p.15; Brincat 1995). See 871.

At the time of the arrival of the Arabs, Malta was under Rhomaioi rule. Brincat
guesses that its population was of the order of 5,000. The whole island had been
Christian for centuries; Christian tombs have survived from the period. The
Byzantine rulers had a doux, or military leader, on the island, as well as a
drungarios: an officer equivalent to a colonel, and archon: a civilian official,
indicating that they had there an important naval station. It is unknown what
language was spoken, except that Greek was probably the language of
administration. A few Greek inscriptions have also survived. – Godfrey Wettinger,
‘The Arabs in Malta’, (in) Malta: Studies of its Heritage and History, ed. Mid-Med
Bank, Malta 1986, p.87.

The Muslim Conquest of Malta

The Arabic document known as the ‘Chronicle of Cambridge’ puts the date of the
Arab conquest of Malta at 29 August 870 AD. Ibn Khaldun puts it in the previous
year, but Ibn al-Athir explains that in AH 256 or AD 870-71 the Muslims of Sicily
came to the relief of Malta, then besieged by the Byzantines - presumably a
flotilla from Italy - who withdrew when they heard of Ahmad’s coming. Apparently,
therefore, in 870 Malta was already in Muslim hands.
What seems certain is that in AH 256 / AD 870 a Muslim squadron left Sicily
under the command of Ahmad b. ‘Umar in order to relieve Malta, which was being
invested by a Romanian (Greek) fleet. This shows that the island was already
occupied by the Muslims before that date, and the year 255 / 869 indicated
notably by Ibn Khaldun (‘Ibar, iv, 430) and other Muslim sources seems correct. A
Byzantine source mentions that the bishop or prior of Malta was unable to return
to his see after the Council of Chalcedon in 868 because the island was (i.e. in
869) being invaded by the Arabs.
The retreat, without a fight, of the Byzantine fleet on 28 Rama’an 256 or 29
August 870 seems to have given the signal for ill-treatment inflicted on the Greek
population of the island, the arrest of its bishop, who was then sent into captivity
at the Muslim-Sicilian capital Palermo, and the destruction of the church (Encyc.
Islam, at; accessed
Maltese: Surviving Greek terms which may date from the time of Byzantine
supremacy, like lapsi: from Greek analepsis “Ascension Day”, are remarkably few.
The linguistic board appears in fact to have been wiped clean to an astonishing
extent by the Arab conquest of AD 870, which brought in the North African
dialectal Arabic which is still the basis of Maltese. This included some Berber
elements in the vocabulary (ibid.)

The 14th or 15th-century geographer Ibn ‘Abd al-Mun‘im al-Himyari wrote Kitab al-
Rawd al-Mi‘tar fi Khabar al-Aktar (The Perfumed Garden). It gives the names of
both the Arab general, Sawada Ibn Muhammad, who led the attack in AD 870 and
the Byzantine commander of Malta, “Amros” [probably Ambrosius], who was
deposed (Joseph M. Brincat, loc.cit.). Al-Himyari describes extensive destruction,
and most historians believed until recently that the islands, whose position
between Sicily and North Africa gives them strategic sway over trans-
Mediterranean shipping, were left completely or largely depopulated at least into
the 900s. This is possible, if as Brincat guesses, their population had been as
small as 5,000.(*)
In fact archaeology suggests that the importation of amphorae and possibly
also cooking pots to Malta - from Byzantine (later Muslim) Sicily - continues right
into the 8th and 9th /early 10th Century. And a Byzantine source implies that in
the 10th century there were eight “cities” (i.e. towns) on Muslim Malta and Gozo.
—Agostino Pertusi, “Le isole Maltesi dall’epoca bizantina al periodo normanno e
svevo (secc. VIXIII) e descrizioni di esse dal sec. XII al sec. XVI,” Byzantinische
Forschungen 5 (1977), p. 263.
At the main town of Melita - old M’dina - occupation actually increases over the
7th and 8th Centuries. Remarkably, the town seems to expand its physical extent
and continues receiving trade in amphorae right up to the 10th Century and
beyond, into the Islamic period. The imports were probably paid for in various
services – presumably for repairs and supply to passing ships, provision of market
services etc - and/or the sale of items with low archaeological visibility, such as
slaves or textiles. (**)

The language spoken on the islands before 870 - whether it was Punic, ‘low Latin’
or Greek is still uncertain - was supplanted by Arabic, perhaps overnight, or
perhaps over a longer period.

(*) For careful discussions of the literary evidence see Brincat, loc cit., and
the first half of A. Luttrell, ‘Slaves and Captives on Malta: 1053/4 and 1091’,

Hyphen: a Journal of Melitensia and the Humanities 7 (1992) 2, pp.97 ff.

(**) Archaeology: Nathaniel Cutajar, ‘The role of liminal territories in the

early Byzantine Commonwealth: the Maltese example’, at 30/8/1/1/abstracts_impaginati.pdf.

2. A church council sat in Constantinople from October 869 to February 870. The
papal legates arrived at Constantinople in September 869, and in October the
synod was opened that today’s Catholics recognise as the Eighth General Council
(Fourth of Constantinople). This synod tried Photius, confirmed his deposition,
and, as he refused to renounce his claim, excommunicated him. Cf 870.
It also formally placed Bulgaria under the Patriarchate of Constantinople in an
extraordinary session on 4 March 870, which the Papal legates refused to accept
as valid.

Hostile correspondence between Basil and the Western emperor Hludwig (Louis or
Lewis) II. (As noted earlier, this followed a failed deal for Byzantium to help Louis
capture Muslim-ruled Bari in return for a marriage alliance.)
Arguments over use of the style ‘emperor of the Romans’. Louis began by
calling Basil “emperor of the New Rome”, but it annoyed the Byzantines that a
Frankish ‘kinglet’ (rex) should also style himself ‘emperor’ [imperator augustus
Romanorum]. Louis for his part, replying in 871, angrily called Basil “king of the
Greeks”, pointing out that originally the Greek word vasilefs or basileus meant
merely ‘king’ (Toynbee 1973).

869-83: ‘Zanj’ or “East African” revolt in Abbasid lower Iraq. Al-Tabari and
Al-Masudi considered the revolt to be one of the largest and most brutally
fought African slave or slave-driven rebellions in history. The revolt began
near the city of Basra in 869 and ended in 883.
During the time of the Abbasid rule there were large numbers of people
imported as slaves from what is now East Africa, southern Sudan and
Somalia. The Zanj worked in extreme conditions of misery. The male
slaves worked in the hot, humid salt marshes of the Shatt Al-Arab (the
lower combined Euphrates-Tigris) while the females and children were
used for domestic labour. In agriculture their jobs were to clear away the
nitrous top soil that made the land arable.
Although African slaves sparked the rebellion, they were soon joined by
other slaves, serfs, peasants, artisans, tribal Arabs and manumission
slaves. Indeed Shabin, Islamic History: A New Interpretation, 750-1055:
Cambridge: Cambridge Univ., 1976, has argued that the participants were
primarily Arabs from the Persian Gulf and free East Africans who lived in
southern Iraq because they chose to live there. He contends that the
economic importance of African goods that were traded throughout the
region made conflict inevitable. African traders and merchants in Iraq
attempted to establish and protect an effective monopoly on trade routes.
Certainly numerous references to other groups involved in the revolt like
the Bedouins or local peasants indicate that the Zanj revolt was something
greater than simply a slave revolt.
The Zanj overran most of southern Iraq, sacking Basra in 871 and
putting a reputed 30,000 men, women and children to the sword.
For roughly 14 years they succeeded in achieving remarkable military
victories and even building their own capital al-Mukhtara (‘The Chosen’,
‘The Elect City’), and expanding along the Shatt al-Arab to within 70 miles
or 110 km of Baghdad. Located between Basra and the Gulf, al-Mukhtara
had huge resources that allowed the building of six impregnable fortress-
towns in which there were arsenals for the manufacture of weapons and
The armed forces of the Zanj reputedly numbered as many as 15,000 at
their peak.

The Caliph's brother al-Muwaffaq launched a methodical series of

campaigns from 881 to 883 AD, driving the Zanj forces back into a last-
ditch defence of their capital city.

1a. Papal legates attend a church council at Constantinople. The council
condemned Photius and deposed him as patriarch and reinstated his predecessor
Ignatius. It also ranked Constantinople before the other three (Muslim-ruled)
Eastern patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.

Canon 21: “No secular authority shall treat disrespectfully or seek to depose any
of the five patriarchs; rather are they to be highly honoured, especially the pope
of Old Rome, then the patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and
Jerusalem [in that order]. Nor shall anyone direct against the pope of Old Rome
any libelous and defamatory writings, as was done recently by Photius and earlier
by Dioscurus. If a secular authority shall attempt to expel the pope or any of the
other patriarchs, let him be anathema.”

1b. The council formally placed Bulgaria under the Patriarchate of Constantinople
and Latin clergy are ejected from Bulgaria. The ‘East Romans’ allow internal
autonomy to the Bulgarian church but under nominal sovereignty of the Patriarch
in Constantinople. In Bulgaria, church services were conducted in Greek … [but
see 885].

1c. In the central Adriatic, Croatian pirate ships assaulted the papal legates who
were returning from the Council of Constantinople. All their possessions were
taken, including the written acts of the council. In retaliation the Byzantine fleet
under Ooryphas attacked the pirates (slavers)’ bases, destroyed their ships and
forts and imprisoned many (Giuseppe Praga, Dalmatia p.60).

2. The first Serbian tribes convert to Eastern Christianity - between 867

and 874. Cf 878 – probable conversion of the zhupan Mutimir.

The East Roman Empire in 870 managed to convert some of the Serbian leaders,
thus opening the way to the mass conversion of the Serbs to Christianity,
accompanied by strong political and cultural influences from the Empire. The
Serbian principalities were subordinated to the ecclesiastical metropolitans in
Split and Syrmium. (The first Serbian archbishopric was not to be established until
1219.) With Christianisation, some of the differences among the tribes were
pushed into the background, especially those rooted in pagan beliefs, and the
path to Serbian unification was opened up on the basis of a common Christian
culture. Cf 878.

Strengthening the Armed Forces

In about 870 Basil built up the (central) Imperial navy and recruited 4,000 new
marines. They were allocated lands near Constantinople. Evidently the oarsmen of
the Imperial (central) Fleet too became professionalised and were provided with
land-holdings and regular pay, and the central (metropolitan) fleet gained its own
marines. This re-configured the central fleet of Constantinople as the
equivalent of a theme (Treadgold Army 1995: 76, 135, 173; State pp.547, 570).
Cf 873-75: vs Cretan pirates.
— In the central fleet the number of oarsmen was some 20,000 (“19,600”) in 900,
with lesser numbers in the themes of Hellas, the Aegean, Samos and the
Cibyrrhaeots (Treadgold Army 1995: 67).
— This number (19,600) was enough to man some 33 larger dromons and 87
smaller dromons, for a total of 120 ships. If this is correct, then each ship was
manned by 30-40 marines [120 ships x 33 or 34 marines = 4,000 marines]. For

comparison, in the 13th century, Angevin-Sicilian galleys each embarked 36

marines: Pryor in Gardiner 2004: 111, 114.

From about 870 the sources begin mentioning a theme of Dalmatia with its
capital at Zadar. But it seems this involved stationing no imperial troops or ships
there; Dalmatia remained self-governing under local Romano-Dalmatian officials
and provided its own local forces (presumably a militia of fewer than 1,000 men*).
The main Byzantine Adriatic fleet and army units (the latter numbering just 2,000
men) were based at Durres/Dyrrhacium, in the Theme of that name (Fine 1991:
258 ff).

(*) Treadgold, Army pp.33, 68, posits that there were just “80” trained imperial
troops at Zadar; he calls them a “token garrison”. At this time a strategus was
assigned a personal guard of two infantry companies each of 40 men (ibid:
p.100), and we may guess this was also the case at Zadar.
We must imagine there was in addition a part-time militia of (say) 700 men
because it is hard to see seven widely separated towns being defended by just
‘80’ men. [Cf below, 870-71: Slav troops in imperial service.] As we have said, the
nearest substantial body of (semi-) professional soldiers was the 2,000 soldiers of
the Theme of Dyrrhachium (Durres) in present-day Albania, some 300 km from
central Dalmatia. They could be rowed to Dalmatia on galleys in under a week (so,
allowing time for a ship to alert the strategos at Dyrrhachium, the response time
was perhaps two weeks).

d. al-Kindi, first Muslim philosopher and greatest of the early patrons of

translation from ancient Greek into Arabic.

The Norse, led by Gardar the Swede, discover Iceland. (Or c.860.)

1. Asia Minor: Following the capture of Ankyra by the Paulicians, Basil campaigns
to destroy the Paulician villages and their leader, the ex-Imperial officer
Chrysocheir. Chrysocheir managed to repel (871) the Byzantine attack and forced
them to break the siege of Tephrike, but during this campaign Basil sacked the
town of Amara and the fortresses of Spathe and Koptos.

The emperor initially suffered defeat before Tephrike and would have lost his life
except for the valour of an Armenian peasant who afterwards joined the imperial
guard: Theophylactus “the Unbearable”, the father of the future Basileus,
Romanus I Lecapenus. The event was so traumatic for Basil that thenceforth he
prayed daily in his chapel to live long enough to kill Chrysocheir. – See 872/73.
The Paulicians were a heretical sect believing in two co-eternal principles (good
and evil), rejecting the Old Testament, denying the Incarnation, and holding
matter to have been created by the evil principle. Under their leader Chrysocheir
they had defeated Basil at Tephrice in 870/71; but the East Roman emperor then
(871/72) sent an army into Asia Minor under his son-in-law Christopher, the
Domestic of the Schools, to deal with them. Christopher caught Chrysocheir’s
forces at Bathyrrhyax at the foot of Mount Zogoloenus (in Cappadocia) as they
were returning from a raid on the centre of Asia Minor, heavily loaded with booty.
The Paulician forces were crushed, and Chrysocheir himself was slain (872) by a
Greek he had captured in 870.

2. Italy: An Arab raiding party from Bari ravages the Gargano peninsula including
the great Lombard shrine of St Michael at Monte Sant'Angelo, NE of Manfredonia.
In response, marching from Benevento, the Western emperor Hludwig (Louis)
leads (late 870) a Frankish-Lombard army down past Muslim Bari against other
Arab targets in Apulia and Calabria. Then, with support from a Byzantine-
organized fleet manned mainly by “Sclavinai” – Croatian alies of the Franks and
other Slavs in Romanian (Greek) service, - the Franks take Bari and capture the
emir Sawdan (2-3 February 871). Constantine Porphyrogenitus claimed that “all”
the Romance-speaking Dalmatian towns participated “by [Byzantine] imperial

mandate” as well as several different tributary Slav tribes (DAI; also Kreutz p.45).
And Louis wrote that Sclavenia nostra (“our Slavenia”), meaning the Croatians,
took part (Fine 2006: 36). Cf below: 871-76.
With their ships, the Dubrovnik people transported Croatian and other Slavonic
soldiers to take part in the liberation of Bari from the rule of the Saracens. This is
the first known case of a combined attack by the fleets and armies of Dubrovnik
and Croatia in the defence of the Adriatic. The Slavs seemed to have served both
on their own ships and on regular imperial Byzantine ships (Vine 1991: 257).

Italy: Arab-Italian cooperation: Sergio II, Duke of Naples from 870 to 877, was said
to have turned the town “into another Palermo, another Africa”: a reference to his
close commercial relations with the Arabs. He was excommunicated by Pope John
VIII. See 871: Arab siege of Salerno.

870-92: r. Caliph al-Mu’tamid.

From 871:
Eastern frontier: The Romanics begin to gain control of the passes through the
Taurus and Anti-Taurus mountains. Cf 879: Basil in person leads an expedition
into Cilicia.

1a. Bari moves from Muslim to Frankish and then to Rhomaioi rule, 871-75.
End of the Emirate of Bari, 841-71: cf 873. - With some Byzantine aid, the
Franks and allied Slavs under Hludwig (Louis) II recover (February 871) Benevento
and the fortress-town of Bari from the Arabs. Subsequently the Lombard-Italians
will allow the Byzantines to take control of Bari (in 873/74 – or 876). Cf below, 873
and 874.
The famous, long, hostile letter from Louis to Basil was written in the first half
of 871, not long after Bari was captured. Jealousy between Louis and Basil
followed the victory at Bari (871), and in reply to an insult from the eastern
emperor, Louis angrily attempted to justify his right to the title “emperor of the

Gibbon: “The fortress of Bari was invested [867] by the infantry of the Franks, and
by the cavalry and galleys of the Greeks; and, after a defence of four years, the
Arabian emir [actually he was a Berber] submitted (February 871) to the
clemency of Lewis [Hludwig (Louis)], who commanded in person the operations of
the siege. This important conquest had been achieved by the concord of the East
and West; but their recent amity was soon embittered by the mutual complaints
of jealousy and pride.”

Hludwig (Louis) had withdrawn into Benevento to prepare for a further campaign
when he was attacked in his palace, robbed and imprisoned by Adelchis, prince of
Benevento, in August 871. A landing of fresh bands of Saracens compelled
Adelchis to release his prisoner a month later, and Louis was forced to swear he
would take no revenge for this injury, and never enter Benevento with an army.
Returning to Rome, he was released from his oath, and was crowned a second
time as emperor by Pope Adrian II on 18 May 872. Then Louis won further
successes against the Saracens, who were driven from Capua, but the attempts of
the emperor to punish Adelchis were not successful. Cf next: Salerno.

1b. Italy: Arab (Sicilian) siege of Salerno 871-72; their first attempt to take a
major Campanian town. The Frankish emperor Hludwig (Louis) dispatched a
Frankish force supported by various Lombard contingents, and the Arabs
withdrew (Kreutz p.56).
The emir in Ifriqiya appointed a commander for Italy as well as a commander
for Sicily. The former, ‘Abd-Allah, landed at Taranto in 871 and sent columns in
several directions. ‘Abd-Allah himself proceeded to Salerno and laid siege to it,
but died (*) in the course of operations. The siege continued without him and was

only raised in 872 when the Arab forces had to fall back on Byzantine Calabria.
Meanwhile, as noted, the Latins (Lombards) freed the imprisoned emperor
Hludwig (Louis) II (Ahmad p.20).

(*) Gibbon, vol. 2, ch. 56, following Baronius, who cites Erchempert or a document
misattributed to Erchempert: “It was the amusement of the Saracens to profane,
as well as to pillage, the monasteries and churches. At the siege of Salerno, a
Mussulman chief spread his couch on the communion-table, and on that altar
sacrificed each night the virginity of a Christian nun. As he wrestled with a
reluctant maid, a beam in the roof was accidentally or dexterously thrown down
on his head; and the death of the lustful emir was imputed to the wrath of Christ,
which was at length awakened to the defence of his faithful spouse [the nun].”

2. As noted, Hludwig (Louis) II writes, from Benevento, an angry letter to Basil

calling himself “imperator augustus Romanorum”. Basil replied asserting that
neither he nor his grandfather, Louis I, had been authorised to refer to himself as

3. Greece: The first piece of evidence for renewed building dates to the late
ninth century, viz. at Athens: the church of St. John the Baptist of Mangoutes, built
in 871, demolished in the early 1800s.
Building activity began again at Athens in the late ninth century, as
demonstrated by the construction of the church of St. John Mangoutis in 871 and
by the earliest structures in the settlement occupying the site of the ancient
Agora, which archaeologists have dated to the ninth or tenth century (Curta 2006:

England, 871: The Christian Anglo-Saxons under King Alfred of Wessex

inflict the first decisive defeat on the pagan Vikings (Danes). Nevertheless,
under Guthrum and other leaders, the Vikings pushed west and southwest
from East Anglia into Mercia and Wessex by 876. After a Viking defeat in
878, England was divided, and Guthrum became a Christian. Cf 878, 885.

Italy: Three-way contest between the Saracens, Franks (Italo-Germans), and
Byzantines for control of Bari. The contest will be won by Constantinople.

1. Sicily: Christian Syracuse outlasted a blockage imposed from 872 to 873 by
emir Khafaja b. Sufyan b. Sawadan - Italian Wikipedia, 2009, under ‘Storia della
Sicilia Araba’. But see 878 – final siege.

2. The East: Paulicans - the large community of quasi-Christian “heretics” living in

the borderlands of Armenia – attack into Galatia. The Emperor’s son-in-law
Christopher led a counter-attack (872) that would lead to the destruction of
Tephrice and the Paulicians’ other fortifications in Asia Minor. The imperial army
moved south into Mesopotamia and captured Zapetra and Samosata the next
year; but it was defeated at Melitene. See 873.

Basil sent a great expedition against them under his son-in-law and the Domestic
of the Schools, Christopher. Their chief Khrysokheir or Chrysocheir was killed near
Sebastea, and their capital Tephrike was subsequently* captured (878) and their
power destroyed. Treadgold 1997: 457, citing Lemerle, dates Christopher’s
campaign against Chrysocheir to 872; Haldon 2001: 85 places it in 878. The
evidence is conflicting.

(*) Chrysocheir was killed in action in 872, and his head was cut off and sent to
the emperor as a trophy. But the fortress-town Tefrice, north of Malatya, remained
independent until 878, when, having recently been damaged in an earthquake, it
surrendered to the Byzantines. The imperial authorities enlisted some of their
defeated opponents in their own armies. Cf 885 below: Diaconitzes, the trusted

‘groom’ or aide of Chrysocheir became a Byzantine officer.

Again Toynbee, 1973: 300, ascribes the victory of 872 to planning and logistics:
the skilful convergence of the various East Roman corps at the right point at the
right moment. Khrysokheir’s army was encircled at ‘Vathryax’ or Bathys Ryax,
west of Sebasteia (latter-day Sivas), by the thematic troops of the Armeniakoi
[perhaps 5,625 men] and Kharsianon [say 3,000], who occupied the heights
commanding Khrysokheir’s camp.
The Armeniacs and Charsianum were the provinces neighbouring the Paulician
realm. So we may imagine they deployed almost all of their forces into this
campaign. The bracketed figures above represent 75% of their enrolled troops.
Total: 8,625 men. Haldon (see next) offers a smaller figure: 4,000-5,000.

John Haldon’s Account of the Battle of Bathys Ryax (Haldon 2001: 85 ff).

The domestiskos of the scholai, Christopher, marched with tagmatic and thematic
forces against Chrysocheir’s Paulicians. The latter withdrew and were harassed by
the Byzantines as they fell back to the region of Charsianon, NE of Kayseri.
Charsianon is about two-thirds of the way along the main road from Ankara to
Sivas. From Charsianon Kastron* the military road runs on to Bathys Ryax and
then on to Sebastea (Sivas). The Paulician capital, Tephrike, modern Divrigi, lay
further east.

(*) The present-day village of Mushalem Kalesi, according to the French

Wikipedia (2009), which is Haldon’s Mus[h]alem Kale or Mus(h)alim Kalesi.
Kalesi = ‘castle’.

The Paulician army marched towards Bathys Ryax, the modern Kalinirmak Gap on
the NE edge of the Ak Dag range. This was an aplekton, or established
marshalling point and supply base for the Byzantine forces of eastern Anatolia.
The Byzantine commander stayed camped at Siboron, modern Karamadara,
while he sent forward two thematic contingents, one from the Charsianon theme,
the other from the Armeniakon, to follow and watch the Paulicians, to see which
direction they would take – back westwards into imperial territory or homewards
to the east, towards Tephrike. If the latter, the two contingents were not to attack
but report to the domestikos at Siboron.
Chryoscheir made camp at the head of the valley of Bathys Ryax, evidently
unaware that he was being shadowed. The Byzantines quietly camped nearby.
Disobeying orders, the two thematic contingents decided to mount a dawn attack.
A select force of 1,200 would attack the enemy camp, while the remainder (some
3,000) would create a great clamour with trumpets and drums, to panic the
Paulicians into believing that the whole combined army under the domestikos had
fallen upon them.
The ruse was completely successful. The Paulicians were routed, Chrysocheir
killed, and some escaping units ran up against the much larger force under the
domestikos. The capital Tephrike held out for only a short while thereafter.

Dalmatia: Arab ships from Crete raided the ‘Narentine’ (pagan Slav) island of
Brach [south of Split] in 872. This would have included taking prisoners for sale as
slaves (cf 876). The Arabs continued to dominate the Adriatic sea until the
Byzantines pushed them out later in the decade. See next.

c. 873:
The newly expanded central imperial fleet routs Arab pirates (slavers) from Crete
raiding into the N Aegean (Treadgold, State p.457). See 874.
In 872, as noted, the Cretan Arabs’ raids reached as far as the Dalmatian coast
of the Adriatic, and in the following year they laid waste the islands of the Aegean
with a fleet under the command of a Greek renegade called Photios, probably
accompanied by other renegades. Skylitzes (trans. Wortley p.47) says the Muslim

fleet comprised 27 koumparia or large armed transport ships (oars and sails) and
“many” myoparones (oar-propelled, light rounded ships with flat bottoms) and
pentekontores “usually known as galleys” (small light ordinary galleys: galea).

1. Asia and Mesopotamia: Basil personally directs an offensive partly against the
emir of Melitene, a local ruler under the Abbasid Caliph, and partly against the
Paulicians. The Byzantines raid east as far as Arsamosata (i.e. not Samosata]*,
which was sacked, but they failed to take Melitene. Several Paulician forts were
sacked. See 882.

(*) Shimshat near modern Elazig in far upper Mesopotamia, where the
Euphrates runs past (around) the sources of the Tigris. Not to be confused
with Samosata (Arabic Samsat) on the Euphrates itself, now submerged
beneath the great Ataturk Dam. Arsamosata was NE of Malatya/Melitene
while Samosata was south of Malatya. —See discussion in Whittow p.417.

A triumph was held to mark the success, or at least to persuade people to the
view that it was such. Having crossed from the Asiatic shore, Basil made a
triumphal entry into the City. He was ceremonially welcomed with floral wreaths
by representatives of every generation of city dwellers including children, and by
the entire senatorial order i.e. the high officials and major dignitaries. After
prayers at a shrine that he favoured, there was a parade via the Golden Gate, i.e.
from the south-west, to Hagia Sophia, along the “Mese”, the main thoroughfare of
the city. The itinerary was punctuated by victorious acclamations of the “demes”
of the Blues and Greens: the competing city factions. Unlike earlier triumphs, no
circus shows (horse parades) followed (McCormick, Triumph p. 155).

2. Italy: The Byzantine imperium returns to southern peninsular Italy when

an imperial fleet wrestles the port of Otranto - at the bottom point of the heel* –
away from the Arabs (Kreutz p.57). The Lombard-Italian duke of Benevento,
Adelchis, acknowledges Rhomaniya/Byzantium’s suzerainty. Cf 875-76.

(*) Otranto is very close to the easternmost point of the heel. From south
to north, on the ‘outside’, the key Romanic towns of the heel of Italy were:
Otranto, Brindisi and Bari.

A Byzantine expedition under the strategos Gregorius, called “baiulus”, landed at

Otranto in 873, beginning the Byzantine reconquest of Southern Italy. His
title baiulus meant that he had been the imperial steward or preceptor (spiritual
tutor). Gregorius was able to neutralise Hludwig (Louis) II’s power over the
dukedom of Benevento, and he obliged its ruler Adelchi to acknowledge Byzantine
hegemony. Cf 875-76 and 879 – Bari and Taranto.

3. A letter sent in 873 by pope John VIII to the ‘principes’ of Sardinia shows that
Greek (Byzantine) merchants, presumably coming from Sicily or Calabria, went to
the island to sell slaves. John asked them to restore freedom to slaves bought
from the Greeks.* —Iohannis VIII papae Epistulae, no. 27, cited by Cosentino, at millennium/2004/pdf/2004_329.pdf; accessed 2005.

(*) "There is one thing about which we should give you a paternal admonition, and
unless you emend, you incur a great sin, and for this reason, you will not increase
gain, as you hope, but guilt. . . . many in your area, being taken captive by
pagans [presumably a reference to the slavers oerating on the European
mainland], are sold and are bought by your people and held under the yoke of
slavery. It is evident that it is religious duty and holy, as becomes Christians, that
when your people have bought them from the Greeks themselves, for the love of

Christ they set them free, and receive gain not from men, but from the Lord Jesus
Christ Himself. Hence we exhort you and in fatherly love command that when you
redeem some captives from them, for the salvation of your soul, you let them go

4. Edict of Basil I forbids the practice of Judaism. Cf 880.

Baghdad, 873: d. Hunayn ibn Ishaq (al-Ilbadi), Arab Nestorian Christian and
chief physician to the Caliph. Translator into Arabic of Plato, Aristotle and
the ancient Greek medical doctor, Galen. Hunayn is said to have sent to
Byzantium in search of Galenic texts.

The first compendium of Islamic medicine was that of al-Tabari, produced

ca.850 by Ali ibn Sahl Rabban al-Tabari (d. ca.870) – who is not to be
confused with the historian, Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (d.

Basil’s new navy regularly sails against the Muslim ‘pirates’ of the Emirate of
Crete. Cf 874, 879.
In 873, the admiral Ooryphas defeated the Saracen pirates (slavers) of Crete in
the Gulf of Saros [near Athens], and followed this victory up in the next year (see
874) with a celebrated feat: while the Saracens were plundering the western
coasts of Greece, he had his men drag his ships across the Isthmus of Corinth,
thereby surprising the Saracen fleet in the Corinthian Gulf and defeating them
(Treadgold 1997: 457). The Madrid Skylitzes has an illustration showing Ooryphas
“punishing” the Saracens of Crete: they are variously shown being hanged, tied to
a tree or pole and shot with arrows, and boiled alive . . .
The Arabs were ejected from the condominium of Cyprus*, which was briefly
restored to sole Byzantine rule and constituted as a theme, c. 875-882. It was
once again an Arab-Greek condominium by 907 when it appears as such in Leo’s

(*) In the censuses of 1831 and 1872, before mechanisation, the

population of Cyprus was about 90,000 and about 140,000 people
respectively (rising from about 10 to about 15 people per km2).
Stathakopoulos 2008 has proposed “nine” per km2 as a low density in the
Byzantine era. So with an area of 9,248 km2, Cyprus should have have
supported at least 83,000 people. The medieval island may have
supported around 100,000 people in good times.

Methodius works to build up his Slavonic Church in central Europe. But soon the
Pope will ban the use of Slavonic in Moravia (in favour of Latin). See 924.

1. Greece (i): Construction of the Monastery of the Dormition near Skripou
(Orchomenus, Orkhomenos) in Boeotia/Viotia: an attractive example of middle
Romanian (Greek) architecture: picture in Treadgold, State p.539.

2. Greece (ii): Arab ‘pirates’ from Crete plunder the western Peloponnesus. The
imperial fleet of “100” ships led by admiral Ooryphas sails/rows to Hellas; its ships
are hauled overland (over six kilometres) across the isthmus of Corinth, allegedly
in the course of just one night, and the Arabs are defeated in the Gulf of Corinth
(Theoph. Cont. 5.61; Treadgold, State p.457; McCormick 2001: 1101). Cf 875-76:

Only gradually were inland dioceses re-established all over Greece. It has been
calculated that there were not above 25 all told down to the reign of Leo VI, 886-
912. Of these about 10 were in the Peloponnese. By then only a few pockets of
“unabsorbed” (or untaxed!) and probably still pagan Slavs remained in the less

accessible mountains, for example the Ezeritai and Milingi of the Taygetos range
near Sparta. —Vlasto 1970. Cf 879 – evangelisation of Macedonia.

Piracy vs Trade

Most sea travel would have been for military purposes: “There is no reason to
doubt the assertion of Nuwayri, a 14th-century Egyptian chronicler, that the
incursions of the Cretan Arabs into the Aegean in the ninth and tenth centuries
effectively brought Byzantine trade [in the lower Aegean] to a standstill [i.e., until
961]. Some Italian influence can be seen [at Corinth] in the locally produced
pottery in the late ninth century [say 875], in other words, after the reopening of
the Adriatic [i.e. after the re-capture of Bari 871]. Furthermore, imports [to
Corinth] of pottery from Constantinople only resumed after the recapture of Crete
in 960–961”. —Sanders, ‘Corinth’, in Laiou ed., 2002. - But see 876 and 944:
Italian (Amalfitan) traders in Constantinople.

Central Europe: The Slav prince Sviatopluk founds a kingdom called ‘Great
Moravia’ in the present-day Czech Republic. See next.

Slavic Kingdom of ‘Great Moravia’ in today’s Slovakia and Czech Republic: The
Vita Constantini or The Life of St Cyril*, d. 869, was composed between 874 and
880, under the inspiration of his brother Methodius, by some of his disciples,
possibly Clement, before Methodius returned from Moravia to Constantinople. The
Vita aimed chiefly at defending the Slavic, ‘proto-Cyrillic’ alphabet and liturgy just
introduced in Moravia, by proving Constantine-Cyril to be a holy man and saint
(Vlasto p.177).

(*) Constantine took the name ‘Cyril’ near the end of his life.

c. 875:
1. Anatolia: An Arab incursion penetrated deep into imperial territory; they
reached Malagina, SE of Nicaea (ODB ii:1274).

2. The Byzantines conquered Cyprus, and made it into a theme, briefly ending
the old condominum arrangement with the Arabs. The imperial (central) fleet
played a key role (Treadgold, State p.458, citing Vasiliev). Cf 876.

3. The Crimea: During the second half of the ninth century, Kherson’s mint struck
an increased quantity of coins, which suggests that trade was flourishing. (Bortoli
and Kazanski. in Laiou 2002).

Strategoi in Italy: Gregorius Baiulus Imperialis Graecorum A. C. 875. Casanus seu

Cassanus Patricius, A. C. 883. 884. Ioannicius Candidatus, Stratigo Augustalis, A.
C. 884.

1. Italy: A Muslim fleet, either from Sicily or Crete, makes a voyage up the Adriatic
as far as Frankish Grado, NE of Venice, and on its way back sets fire to papal
Comacchio on the coast N of Ravenna. But Venetian squadrons maintained their
supremacy in the Adriatic, even though limited by the Saracen occupation of
Sicily and Crete.
New land reinforcements under ‘Uthman, the commander in Taranto, raided
the environs of Benevento, and occupied the towns of Telese on the road NW
from Benevento and Alife further NW in the valley of the Volturno. The Lombards
asked for Byzantine help, but the Beneventan ruler Adelchis feared Byzantine
domination, and preferred to come to terms with the Saracens.
The Byzantines, nevertheless, succeeded (25 December 875) in occupying
Latin-ruled Bari. See next.
Thereafter the Saracens in the Gulf of Taranto were on the defensive against
the Byzantines (Ahmad p.21)

2. Italy: Proceeding from Otranto, the local army of New Rome (Constantinople)
led by Gregorius [Gregory] receives control of Bari from the gastald and other
Lombard subordinates of the Frankish emperor Hludwig (Louis). Bari seems to
have been added to the Theme of Cephalonia (Treadgold, State p. 458; Whittow
p.308). See 876 and 880.

The local Latin chroniclers recorded this event thus:

(a) Lupus Protospatharius, ‘Chronicon rerum in regno Neapolitano gestarum’:

“Anno 875.[sic: 876] intraverunt Graeci Barum mense Decembr. die Natalis
Domini, feria 3. et Gregorius Stratigo, qui et Baiulus dicebatur” – ‘The Greeks
enter Bari in December on the 3rd holy day of the Lord’s Birth [led by] Gregory the
Strategos known as the Baiulus [imperial steward, tutor, chancellor]*.”

(*) Gk bailos, “imperial preceptor” (spiritual tutor). Gregory had taught

Basil’s sons.

(b) Erchempert writes thus: “Hoc audientes qui Barim residebant, Gregorium,
baiulum imperiale Graecorum, qui tunc in Odronto degebat, cum multis
exercitibus asciverunt, et Barim introduxerunt ob Saracenorum metum; qui statim
apprehensum gastaldeum illiusque primores Constantinopolim misit, ut quibus
iureiurandum fidem dederat.” ‘These partisans or supporters (audientes:
‘hearers, obeyers, converts’) living in Bari let in (admit) Gregory, the imperial
tutor (baiulus, ‘preceptor, chancellor’) of the Greeks, who at that time based
himself in Otranto, along with many troops-army-infantry, and [they, the Bariots]
brought or let [the Byzantine troops] into Bari for fear of the Saracens; (and)
immediately the arrested gastald and he [i.e. Gregory] sends the other officials
(primores ‘leading men, magnates’) to Constantinople, having made them swear
an oath of loyalty’.

British Isles: Christian monks abandon Lindisfarne, founded 635, for the
last time. Viking raids had begun 793. Cf 878.

1. The Aegean: The imperial navy defeats a large force of Cretan pirates (slavers),
bringing some stability to the Aegean until the end of the century (Hocker in
Gardiner 2004: 92). Cf 880.

2. The East: Further offensive against the emir of Melitene.

3. Italy: Byzantines begin an extended attempt to retake southern Italy from the
In the case of Bari, as we have seen, it was the local mainly Latin or Lombard
population who invited (late 876) the Byzantines to return. Evidently the Bariots
were tired of constant harassment by Muslims, other Latins (Lombards) and
Franks (Germans), and saw the Eastern Empire as a better guarantor of their
freedom. As already noted, the strategus of Otranto, Gregorius, was happy to
oblige. But it was not until 888 that Byzantine rule in Puglia was finally secured:
see there (Wickham pp.109, 111).

We can judge the importance attached to Italy by noting the status of the men
sent to govern it. Gregorius had been tutor to the sons of the emperor Basil and
was therefore a man of high standing (Wickham p.112). Cf 877 – Gaeta deals
directly with Constantinople.

Subsequently a general named Basil becomes Byzantine strategos in Bari and

Southern Italy (to 884).
N Apulia: The Byzantines rebuild Bovino, near modern Foggia, and fortify it with
new walls. The walls around Bovino were rebuilt, and the streets were laid out in
their characteristic narrow design (Wikipedia 2010 s.v. Bovino; no primary
reference given).

4. Italy: Byzantium takes Capri from the Lombard gastald installed by Hludwig
(Louis) II in 866. Louis had transferred the island from Naples’ to Amalfi’s control.)
Prompted by a Saracen raid as far as the neighbourhood of Rome, Pope John
VIII tours Campania to promote an anti-Muslim coalition. The Carolingians of the
North refuse to help him. His only recourse was to pay Arab bands not to attack
Papal territory and later to plead to Byzantium for help. Cf 880-81.

5. (c. 876) Venetian edict against the slave trade: the doge sought to ban the
purchase of slaves from pirates (Arab and Slav) and the transport of slave
merchants (Jews) (Rotman p.72; McCormick 2001: 770-72). As Rotman pp.79-80
notes, this and the use of customs houses were partly an anti-Arab policy. More
importantly, given that Venetian and Jewish traders sold slaves directly to Muslim
Africa and the East, the Christian authorities were seeking to reduce or eliminate
the competition in the slave traffic destined for Byzantium’s own markets (largely
for on-selling to the Muslim East), and to stop the slave trade in abducted
Byzantines (for the Venetians would sometimes sell captive Greeks as well as
Slavs and others).
The figures assembled by McCormick 2001: 772 suggest the trade in slaves
was a large scale industry.

6. Legal digest, the Procheiron (“guide to the laws”).

In about 876 or 878—on the death of Ignatius, probably in October 878—the
former patriarch Photius was suddenly recalled to Constantinople and entrusted
with the education of Basil’s children. After a decent show of reluctance, Photius
again filled the patriarchal throne (Wikipedia, ‘Photius’, 2009).

876-79: Tulunid Egypt: Building of the mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo.

1. The East: At age 66* Basil personally led an army through the defiles of the
Anti-Taurus from Koukouso (Göksun, SE of Kayseri) to Germaniceia (Marash). So
poor were the roads or paths that they had to go on foot, a fact that also
illustrates the ageing emperor’s vigour* (Haldon in Pryor 2006: 143).

(*) He is usually taken as born in 811. Some have him born in the early or
mid 830s (e.g. Tougher p.27). N. Adontz, Études arméno-byzantines,
Lisbon, 1965, 67, offers an exact date: 25 May 836. If so he was 41 in 877.

2. Sicily: The Muslims under the governor Ja’far b. Muhammad blockade the
isolated and much reduced Romanian (Greek) outpost of Syracuse.
Ja’far began his mandate in 877 with an expedition to destroy the harvests in
the environs of Byzantine Syracuse, Catania, Taormina and Rametta, i.e. along
the length of the eastern littoral. After these preliminary movements, his troops
advanced until they occupied the outer suburbs of Syracuse, and from August of
that year they settled down to a siege of the city by sea and land. The defenders
were well supplied to resist, but this time their attackers arrived determined and
prepared to win. Among their armaments were a great number of siege machines,
some of which by their size and terrible destructive effects caused great fear
among the defenders. Having completed a wall, the attackers began to bombard
the city day and night relentlessly (thus Rodriquez; also Ahmad p.15). See 878.

3. Italy: Gaeta lies on the coast above Naples, in the direction of Rome. Gaeta’s

hypatus or ‘consul’ John (Ioannes) II, or rather: co-hypatus - his father Docibilis
was still formally in power, - received specific recognition as lord of the region
directly from the East Roman emperor. That is to say, John accepted the title of
patrikios from the Byzantines, and continued to rule Gaeta independently of
Naples and the surrounding Lombard principality of Capua. When the term dux
(duke) came to be used after 900, Gaeta formally became a duchy; but it
continued to date documents using the reign-dates of the Byzantine emperors
until 936.
Docibilis had established the de facto independence of Gaeta after 867; but he
remained nominally a vassal of Naples. John reversed the policy of his father of
alliance with the Saracens and war with his Lombard and ‘Greek’ neighbours, and
was rewarded in 877 with the imperial title of patrikios. More concretely, we
observe that Pope John VIII transferred the papal patrimonies or estates of
(inland) Fondi and Traetto to Docibilis and his son Ioannes in return for their
breaking their pact with the Saracens.

4. Constantinople: Photius is reinstalled as patriarch.

1. SE Asia Minor: Genesios and Theophanes Continuatus record that in 878 the
Byzantines defeated a Tarsan raiding party of “4,000” men.
Toynbee 1973: 300 ascribes the victory to planning and logistics: the skilful
convergence of the various East Roman corps at the right point at the right
moment. Five army detachments or regiments, including local thematic troops
from Kharsianon and Selefkia (Seleucia), under the command of Andreas ‘the
Skyth’, converged on the Tarsans at Podhandos (Bozanti) immediately north of
the Cilician Gates.
The Arab incursion was modest. Let us therefore imagine, as a thought-
experiment, that Kharsianon and Selefkia deployed only half their enrolled troops,
i.e. 2,000 and 2,500 respectively (figures from Treadgold Army p.134). The other
local theme was that of Cappadocia. If it also supplied half its enrolled strength
(2,000), then the total East-Roman force may have numbered of the order of
6,500 men.

2. (Or 879:) The East: Byzantine forces under the domestikos ton Scholon
Christophoros captured the last Paulician stronghold, Tephrike, following a siege,
and destroyed it. A large part of its population was enslaved and forced to move
to Byzantine lands, while some of them were incorporated into the Byzantine
army and sent to Southern Italy. The fall of Tephrike signalled the end of the
Paulician state, which for six decades had been a dangerous enemy of Byzantium
on its eastern border. (See Treadgold 1997: 944, note 25, for a discussion of the

3. Effective end of Rhomaioi rule in Sicily. After a nine-month siege, on 21 May

878 Syracuse falls to the Muslim Aghlabids, the last major town held by the
Byzantines in Sicily. See 880, 902. – Illustrated in Skylitzes.

The fall of Syracuse, the administrative capital of Byzantine Sicily, after being
starved by a nine-month siege in 877-78, nearly completed the Muslim conquest
of Sicily, although the empire maintained toe-holds at Taormina and Catania and
in south Italy. See 879 and 881.
During the siege, the price of wheat in the town soared as supply dwindled. As
a result, instances of cannibalism are reported which cause the spread of disease
(Ahmad p.15; and below). The city is finally captured and sacked. Its great
cathedral is converted into a mosque by the Saracens.
Some 5,000 people were massacred during the sacking of the city. Those who
survived were taken into slavery (Italian Wikipedia, 2009, under ‘Storia della
Sicilia byzantina’).

The Fall of Syracuse

Theodosius, a monk, was captured at Syracuse and taken to Palermo: “Such”, he

wrote, “ was the slaughter [during the siege of Syracuse] that on the same day
every weapon with which defence had been made was broken to pieces, bows,
quivers, arms, swords, and all weapons; the strong were made weak, and the
violence of the foe drove to surrender those defenders, those brave men whom
I may well call giants, who laboured with all their might, who hesitated not before
that day to suffer hunger and all labours, and to be pierced with numberless
wounds for the love of Christ, and who were all put to the sword after the city was
. . . We were vanquished after many attacks made upon us by night, and many
a hostile ambush, after engines had been brought up against the walls with which
these were pounded almost all day, after a grievous storm of stones hurled
against our works, when the tortoise-shed that destroys cities had been used
against us, and those things which they call subterranean rats [ie, undermining
the walls]; for not one of those things which are of use for taking a city was left
untried by those who were in charge of the siege.
. . . we were taken captive after we had suffered hunger long, feeding upon
herbs, after having thrust into our mouths in our extreme need even filthy things,
after men had even devoured their children - a frightful deed, that should be
passed in silence, although we had before abhorred human flesh - oh! hideous
spectacle - but who, for his own dignity's sake, could weep such deeds in tragic
strain? . . . No sort of domestic bird or fowl was left, and oil and all sorts of salt
provisions had long been eaten up, even such things which, as Gregorius
Theologus says, are usually the food of the poor; no cheese, no vegetables, no
. . . the enemy besieged the city with all their forces, and was so far superior in
numbers, that although it is hardly to be believed, a hundred of them fought
hand-to-hand with one of us, covering their antagonists with no common glory in
dangers which it required the highest courage to face. . . ..” - Quoted in F M
Crawford, Rulers of the South, London, Macmillan 1900.

Sicilian Genetics

It has been estimated that 37% of the male lineages in Sicily today are of Greek
origins (notably the haplogroups E3b1 and J2), and 6% of Arabic/North African
origins (J1). At least 7%, but more probably over 10%, could be of Norman origins
[from the 11th century and later]. —Cornelia Di Gaetano et al., ‘Differential Greek
and northern African migrations to Sicily are supported by genetic evidence from
the Y chromosome’, European Journal of Human Genetics: advance online
publication 6 August 2008; accessed at doi: 10.1038/ejhg.2008.120.

3. Serbia and Croatia: Mutimir, the Serbian zupan, chieftain or knez, prince,
converts from paganism to Eastern (Greek Orthodox) Christianity. Also, first
written record of the Slavic name “Beograd” (Belgrade), then under Bulgarian
rule; the town had been called (Latin) Singidunum in earlier centuries.
“Our father of blessed memory, Basil, the Emperor of the Romans, prevailed on
them [the Slavs] to renounce their ancient customs and, having made Greeks
[graikoi] of them and subjected them to governors according to the Roman
[Byzantine] model and bestowed baptism upon them, he freed them from
bondage to their own rulers and taught them to make war on the nations that are
hostile to the Romans.” —Emperor Leo VI, “Tactica,” in GSBH, II, pp. 467-469.
Simultaneously in 878 the supreme power in Dalmatian Croatia was seized by a
local duke or prince (knez), Zdeslav, who favoured Byzantium against Rome and
the Franks. Zdeslav promptly acknowledged the political sovereignty of the
emperor and the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the see of Constantinople. This was
a minor triumph (and brief) for the Eastern empire, whose political and religious
dominion now showed promise of spreading as far as Istria [NE Italy] and across

the Dinaric Mountains towards the valley of the upper Sava River. But see next:

[Or 886:] At the edge of the known world: Alfred, king of Wessex, defeats
the Danes at Edington and captures the village of London.

Dalmatia: The first native Croatian ruler to be recognised by a Patriarch of Rome
was duke Branimir. Pope John VIII called him dux Chroatorum in 879.

The new pro-Byzantine duke or prince of Dalmatian Croatia, Zdeslav, recognises

(878) Constantinople’s sovereignty, but is assassinated by pro-Papal elements.
Under his successor Branimir, rural Croatia switched (879) to Latin Christianity -
“Catholicism” in our terms - and became in effect politically independent.

This affected mainly the interior. The Dalmatian ‘cities’ and islands continued to
acknowledge Constantinople’s rule and remained ‘Orthodox’. The episcopate of
Nin (Slavic) near non-Slavic (Romance*) Zadar recognised Rome (it probably
came under the archbishop of Aquileia), while Zadar itself and the archbishopric
of Split recognised Constantinople. The jurisdiction of the archbishop of
(Byzantine/Othodox) Split was recognised in the coastal towns and islands,
notably Krk (Veglia), Zadar, Trogir, Ragusa and Kotor (Cattaro), but not inland
(Vlasto 1970: 195).
As a result, the limit of Latin Europe and what Obolensky, p.138, has called the
‘Byzantine Commonwealth’ became Serbia’s western or Croatian border.

(*) The Croats of course spoke a Slavic tongue. In the coastal towns, however, the
language was ‘Dalmatian’, a Romance tongue, perhaps slightly more closely
related to the dialects of Italy than to Vlach-Rumanian. The towns of Zadar, Trogir
[near Split], Split, Dubrovnik and Kotor - respectively Zara, Traù, Spalato, Ragusa
and Cattaro in Venetian and Italian - each had a local dialect. So did the islands of
Krk, Cres and Rab (Veglia, Cherso and Arbe), all in the north near today’s
Slovenian border. The earliest reference to the language dates from the 10th
century, and it is estimated that about 50,000 people spoke it at that time
(Wikipedia, 2009, ‘Dalmatian’).

1. The West: A fleet of “100” ships commanded by Niketas Ooryphas, the
‘Drungarios tou Basilikou Ploimou kai Katepano ton Ploimon’, which is to say:
“admiral of the imperial or central fleet and supreme commander of the (entire)
navy”, sails (rows) to the Adriatic to aid Ragusa (Dubrovnik) - the number as given
by Const. Porph. in DAI, ch.29. It defeats the Muslim Cretans in the Gulf of Corinth
and so relieves the Arab siege of Ragusa.
This is listed by Pryor & Jeffreys p.385 as one of the most notable naval
victories achieved by the empire.

2. The East: An East Roman army raids into Cilicia and Mesopotamia. (Or in 877:
see there.) Basil personally directs a campaign against the fortress-towns of
Germanicia and Adata, during which Tefrike, present-day Divrigi, also fell to
Byzantine forces.
A triumph was held in the style described earlier under 873. The patriarch
Photios met the emperor Basil I (Basileios) and his son Constantine (Konstantinos)
in their triumph of 878 at the Church of the Theotokos and went with them in a
liturgical procession to Hagia Sophia: Const. Porph., Military Treatises I, 779-790
(Reiske, 502).

3. Greece: By 879 the evangelisation of the Slavs of inner or eastern Macedonia

was well in hand. Paul, (Greek) Bishop “of the Strymonians”, a tribe which stood

across the Bulgarian trade-route, and Peter, (Greek) Bishop “of the Druguvitai”
who, with the Sagudatai, occupied part of the rich plains to the west of
Thessalonica, were signatories to the acts of the Council of Constantinople in that
year. The Ezerites and Serbs of outer Macedonia also had bishops by 879 (Vlasto
1970: 10). But politically the upper Vardar and upper Strymon rivers remained in
the hands of pagan Slavs who acknowledged Bulgarian overlordship.

3. A small Byzantine strike-force finally reclaims Taranto from the Arabs (Kreutz
p.63). Or in 880: see there.

4. Sicily: Husayn b. Rabah made an expedition against Taormina, now the most
important Christian/Byzantine stronghold in the island (Tobias 2007). In the battle
that ensued, the Greeks lost their leader, a patrikios called Chrisaphios.

Constantinople: A church council was held from November 879 to March 880
which conceded the return of the church of Bulgaria to Rome’s jurisdiction and
thus ended one aspect of the 20-year-old quarrel. Pope John VIII for his part
recognised Photios.
The so-called ‘Photian’ Council: Pope John VIII recognised Photius as patriarch
and sent legates to a synod, held in 879–80, which the Eastern Church counts as
an ecumenical council. As we noted earlier, this synod affirmed that Photius had
been legally elected, nullified the synods that had condemned him, ruled against
the elevation of laymen to the episcopacy, and agreed that New Rome
(Constantinople) would relinquish to Old Rome’s religious authority in Bulgaria.
The pope sent three legates, Cardinal Peter of St. Chrysogonus, Paul, Bishop of
Ancona, and Eugene, Bishop of Ostia. The synod was opened in Hagia Sophia in
November 879. This is for the Catholics the “Pseudosynodus Photiana”, but the
Orthodox count it as the Eighth General Council.
Photius had it all his own way throughout. He revoked the acts of the former
synod (869), repeated all his accusations against the Latins, dwelling especially
on the filioque grievance, anathematized all who added anything to the Creed,
and declared that Bulgaria should belong to the Byzantine Patriarchate (Cath.
Encyc. under ‘Photius’).
The S Balkans, our ‘Greece’, was represented at the council by 12
metropolitans and bishops.

879-92: Vikings resume raids against N Francia. Cf 885-86.

Bulgaria: Tradition records that Boris built seven cathedrals for his new bishoprics.
The number ‘seven’ must, as always, not be taken too literally. The website
Serbianna (sic: 2010, citing Vlasto)*, says that the following can be identified with
varying certainty: 1: the basilica on an island in Lake Prespa, 2: one of the
churches at Ohrid, and 3: one at Nesebur (Mesembria); 4: the church at Vodocha
(near Strumitsa), which would seem therefore to be the cathedral of the see of
Bregalnitsa (dateable to c. 886-9); and 5: the church at Cherven, south of Ruse on
the Danube. Also in Bulgarian-controlled territory were such Greek sees as (i)
Belgrade or Morava, (ii) Dorostol (Drustur), (iii) Serdica: modern Sofia, whose
church of the Holy Wisdom still survives, (iv) Philippopolis (Plovdiv) and (v) Develt
- a short way south of Burgas on the Black Sea coast.
The seven bishops from Bulgaria who attended the Council of 879-80 in
Constantinople therefore represented the majority, if not the totality, of the
country’s episcopacy. Cf 893.

(*) entry_of_slavs_into_Christendom.

1a. The Adriatic: The imperial fleet under admiral Nasar defeats the Muslims off
Methone in SW Greece (879) and off Punta di Stilo on the sole of ‘the toe’ in
Calabria (880).* This is listed by Pryor & Jeffreys, p.385, as one of the more

notable naval campaigns conducted by the empire.

(*) Genesios writes of an Aghlabid fleet of “60” large ships, each carrying
200 men, operating off western Greece in ca. 880. It is not clear if this was
the same fleet as that defeated off Calabria. As noted below, Nasar may
have commanded as many as “169” Byzantine ships.

1b. Italy: Basil sends (879) the imperial fleet with an army mainly from the
western themes commanded by Prokopios against the Arabs of Sicily, and they
recover (880) parts of Calabria and the Muslim-ruled port-town of
Tarentum/Taranto in Apulia (or in 879: Ahmad p.21 and Whittow p.308 say
880). The troops were drawn from Sicily, Kephalenia, Dyrrhachium,
Peloponnnesus, Thrace and Macedonia, along with some Slav auxiliaries, and
reinforcements from Charsianon and Cappadocia (McCormick 2001: 956).
The date according to the Chronicle of the Logothete was after 1 May 880.
Lupus is the only Western source to note this important victory, but it is
mentioned in several Byzantine writings, including Theophanes Continuatus,
Skylitzes, and the Chronicle of the Logothete.
Lupus: “Anno 880. exierunt Agareni de Tarento”. ‘The Agarenes [Muslims] are
forced out of (leave) Taranto’.

Two Byzantine armies, led by generals Procopius and Leo Apostyppes, and a fleet
sailing (rowing) from Sicily commanded by the admiral Nasar, took Taranto from
the Arabs, ending a 40 years’ dominion. Among the first actions taken by the
Byzantine governor Apostyppes was the enslavement and deportation (sale) of
the Latin-Longobard inhabitants of Taranto (laos, its ‘people, army’) – who had
almost completely converted to Islam – and the import of Greek-speaking
peasants, in order to increase the population.

This signals the re-creation of Byzantine rule across the whole far south of
mainland Italy.

In the Mediterranean, the Aghlabids practically completed their conquest of Sicily,

and until 880 held part of the heel of Italy (Taranto). In 880 they were expelled
from the Italian heel by combined Frankish-Romanian (Greek) efforts, of which
the East Romans gained the profit.
“It was their [Byzantium’s] first territorial gain [in the West] for two
centuries, and their possession of it was assured more by the political disunity
and impoverished state of the peninsula than by the force of imperial arms”
(McEvedy 1961: 48).

Expedition to Sicily, Calabria and Apulia, 879-80

The expedition was a strong one: Ibn Idhari writes of “169” ships in all, whereas
the Vita of Elias the Younger offers just “45” (Tobias 2007: 175 accepts the latter
figure). The contingents of the themata of the West – Cefalonia; Dyrrhachium; and
the Peloponnesus [if 1,000 each, perhaps 3,000 men?] – were supported by
detachments of Serbs and Croatians [say 2,000?] all under the command of
Procopius the Protovestiarios or Keeper of the Imperial Wardrobe. In addition,
some of the troops of Thrace and Macedonia [say 2,000?] were sent under the
doux or strategos Leo Apostypos (Apostyppes). They linked up with troops of
‘Sicily’ meaning Calabria [say 1,000].* Although we do not know the exact
numbers, it was definitely an imposing army (says Rodriguez: square brackets are
my guesses: MO’R). As noted below, the expedition probably exceeded 10,000
men. This was more than the number Belisarius had led when he invaded Sicily in
the 6th Century.

(*) Nearly the whole of Sicily was under Muslim rule; there the Byzantines

held only parts of the eastern littoral. But Calabria-Sicily was officially still
called “Sicily”.

One source says that the troops were drawn from “all” the “western themata”
and specific mention is made of the theme of Sikelia itself: Kephalenia,
Dhyrrakhion, Thrake, Makedhonia, and “Sicily” so-called, meaning the local troops
of Calabria (Toynbee’s ‘Greek’ spellings: 1973: 264). Evidently the Peloponnesus
also contributed some troops. Or as Von Falkenhausen has it, the troops were
drawn from 1 ‘Sicily’ [Calabria], 2 Kephalenia, 3 Dyrrhachium, 4 Peloponnnesus, 6
Thrace and 7 Macedonia, along with 8 some Slav auxiliaries, and reinforcements
from two Asian themes: 9 Charsianon and 10 Cappadocia (cited in McCormick
2001: 956).
These themes had altogether 18,000 troops on their rolls; thus the expedition
probably embarked over 10,000 troops. If Nasar had brought only ‘45’ ships
fron the East, they must have been supplemented by local ships or else several
trips were made to ferry the army in. - See 881, 883, 885 and 887.

Basil sent “45” ships of the imperial plöimon (fleet) under the Syrian-born admiral
Nasar, who had meanwhile replaced Nicetas Ooryfas in that position, against the
Saracen fleet. Nasar was able to expel (879) the intruders from the Ionian sea,
after surprising and annihilating an Arab squadron of 16 galleys in the port of
Methone, the SW-most point of Greece.
Nasar then proceeded towards the coast of Sicily and through the Strait of
Messina; he reached Naples in October 879. Probably it was from there that a
contingent of the fleet was dispatched (possibly early in 880), at the request of
the Pope, to protect the coasts of Campania. Then, after reassembling his full
squadron, Nasar commenced an offensive on the northern coast of Sicily, to the
east of Palermo. A great naval battle was fought and won by the Byzantines off
Milazzo, in the neighbourhood of the Lípari islands,
Animated by the success of its fleet, Byzantium was now prepared to proceed
with the second and more important phase of the operation, namely disembarking
on Italian soil – at Reggio in Calabria - the first imperial armies that those coasts
had seen in more than a century (Rodriquez). A small strike-force also went to
Apulia, where Taranto was captured.

The following is adapted from Rodriguez’s account.

Having taken Syracuse, the Muslim Sicilians began to make expeditions against
southern Italy and the islands off Greece. In some cases success was not
achieved, as in 879 when a Saracen fleet of 16 ships that sacked the
Peloponnesos was surprised at Methone by the ships of the Byzantine admiral
Nasar which, operating in conjunction with the strategos of the Peloponnesos,
John of Crete, surprised their enemies in a night attack and annihilated the flotilla,
sinking some ships and capturing others. Nasar then sailed (his oarsmen rowed)
in the direction of Sicily and sacked the coast around the Saracen capital of
Palermo, capturing a great number of merchant boats and a great cargo of olive
oil (which allegedly so increased the supply at Constantinople that prices fell
dramatically). Next the fleet took course to Reggio in Calabria, where the land
expedition under Procopios and Leo Apostypos was off-loaded.
Leaving some ships in the northern Sicilian ports of Términi and nearby Cefalú*,
Nasar directed the fleet from Sicily towards Calabria and there in 880, the
disembarkation of the Byzantine army took place. The objectives for the
campaign were to take or reassert control of Calabria, force the expulsion of the
Muslims of Taranto and to unite those territories with the region of Bari already
controlled by the empire.

(*) Termini lies between Palermo and Cefalu on the farther northern coast.

As it appears, by no means all of Calabria was brought under imperial rule in 880.
A further army was sent from the East in 882-83 (see there); it attacked the
Muslim outposts at Tropea and Amantea, on the instep of Italy, and Santa
Severina, an inland town, near the front sole.

2. Italy and the Balkans: St. Elias the Younger, 823-903, in an attempt to escape
the Arab inroads in his native Italy (Calabria), crossed the sea to the Peloponnese
in 880. Cf 881. He arrived at Sparta, then went into present-day Albania (Butrint),
where he was arrested as a spy. From there, he moved to the island of Corfu, and
thence back to Italy. Eight years later he fled again from Italy, this time to Patras.
Finally, in 903, he crossed to Hellas from Italy and arrived at Thessalonica, where
he eventually died. His Life, written in the early 10th century, illustrates the
degree of stability the Byzantine conquest had brought to the region.

3. An officially organised Jewish-Christian public debate (“disputation”) was held

in Constantinople: it was followed by persecution of Jews and expulsions.

4. Guaimar [Waimar] of Salerno, son of Guaiferius, struggled (880) against the

Saracens and the Byzantines, but on account of his cruelty he was deposed,
blinded, and thrown into prison.
In 881 (or 880) the Bishop of Naples, Athanasius, invited the Arabs, his allies
against Rome and against Byzantium, to intervene. The Arabs established bases
at the foot of Vesuvius and further south in Campania, below Salerno, at Agropoli,
hitherto a Byzantine town. Guaimar’s opponents in Capua paid the Agropoli Arabs
to come against Guaimar in 881 and they threatened Salerno itself. See below
under 881.

About 880:
1. The East: Harun ibn Jahya (Yahya) is captured by the Byzantines at Ascalon in
Palestine. His memoirs reveal travel times: the journey by ship from Palestine to
Attalia, capital of the Cybyrrhaeot theme, took three days (i.e. an ocean crossing
via Cyprus). Cyprus was used by both Byzantium and the Caliphate as a forward
staging point or convenient rendezvous, either for taking on water or for
gathering together a whole fleet. From Attalia by horse it took eight days to arrive
at Constantinople, a distance of over 300 miles/480 km i.e. 40 km a day, which
again is a respectable speed for horses.
Infantry and civilian pedestrians of course would have travelled much more
slowly: at best about 16 miles/fewer than 24 km per day (Hyland p.38; McGeer
p.341; Haldon in Pryor 2006: 141). Cf the average of 15 miles (24 km) per day for
a British division marching in Palestine in WW1 (McGeer p.341n).
Byzantine marching rates are given by Phocas: in G. Dagron and H. Mihailescu,
Le traité sur la guérilla (De velitatione) de l’empereur Nicéphore Phocas, 963–969
(Paris, 1986), p.79. -

Harun describes an imperial procession in Constantinople, with the houses along

the way brocaded; men marching in massive contingents dressed in red, white,
green and blue [sky blue]; men with gilded axes; eunuchs carrying golden
crosses; regiments of armoured Turkish and Khazar lancers; and so on (El Cheikh
2004: 155).

2. Trans-Danubia: Migrating westwards, the Magyars (Hungarians) reach the

eastern slopes of the Carpathians and the NW shore of the Black Sea, and so
enter the range of Byzantine politics. (They will not cross the Carpathians until
about 900.) At this time the Bulgarians controlled both sides of the lower Danube.

1. Basil aged 70. He dedicates the Nea (“new church”) to Christ, the Virgin,
Michael, Gabriel, Elijah and St Nicholas.

2. Italy: The Arab bandits or freebooters based at Sepino—inland, 40 km NW of

Benevento—were (amazing as it may seem to us) being sponsored by the pro-
Byzantine and anti-papal bishop-duke of Naples, Athanasius. As mercenaries they
helped defend Naples against the ‘Lombards’ of Capua, Benevento and Salerno,
who also employed bands of Arabs.

In 881 the Sepino Arabs first ravaged the towns of Isernia and Boiano or Bojano
and then in October destroyed the abbey of San Vincenzo al Volturno, the great
monastery upstream from Capua. Tracing NW, Sepino lies SE of Boiano, which is
SE of Isernia which is SE of San Vicenzo al Volturno.* The abbey was left
abandoned until 914 (Kleinhenz p.756; Wikipedia 2010 s.v. ‘Athanasius of
Naples’). Cf 883.
The planctus (chant) recounting the sack of the Benedictine monastery of San
Vincenzo al Volturno in 881 is still sung in the abbey on 10 October each year
( Richard Hodges, ‘The Sack of San Vincenzo Al Volturno’, History Today, Vol. 47,
July 1997):-

“Now the heathens come, the clamourous band rages.

They bring war down on the monks, then turning act as a scourge,
And with a rain of weapons make faith effeminate.
The impious rustic servants of the monks make a gift to this host.
They strike down their own masters in the slaughter.
They assail the strong fortresses, the opponents swiftly rush together,
The high buildings fall, the walls all collapse.”

(*) San Vicenzo al Volturno is located at the intersection point of a line

drawn NE from Gaeta and another NW from Benevento.
Cassino/Montecassino is halfway along the line from Gaeta to San Vicenzo
al Volturno. The river Volturno runs down past Capua and into the sea.

Muslim ‘pirate-bases’ (raiding colonies) in Italy

In 881 (or 880) the Bishop of Naples, Athanasius, invited the Arabs, his allies
against Rome and against Byzantium, to intervene. The Arabs established bases
at the foot of Vesuvius and further south in Campania, below Salerno, at Agropoli,
hitherto a Byzantine town. And Docibilis, the hypatus (“consul”) of Gaeta, another
enemy of the pope, allowed the Arabs to settle as his allies in the north, near Itri
on the Appian Way inland from Gaeta, and then (881 or 882: see there; or 883*)
on the right bank of the Garigliano River near Minturno (formerly Traietto) on the
Gulf of Gaeta NW of Naples - south of Montecassino: quite near Gaeta itself.
Specifically their fortified camp was at Monte d’Argento, three km north of
Minturno, looking down on the flat littoral where the Appian Way ran. See 886:
attack by Theophylact.
From Gaeta it is just 15 km in a straight line east across the Gulf of Gaeta to
the mouth of the Garigliano. The Arabs built a fort there, from which they
conducted raids. They attacked and again set on fire (883) the monasteries of
St.Vincenzo and Montecassino. —Source: Italian history website called Maat, at, page entitled “Mediterranean
Sea: From Centumcellae to the Garigliano”; accessed 2008.

(*) The date preferred by Loud, in NCMH p.626, is “ca 881”.

Sicily: Hasan b. Abbas, eager to erase the memory of the defeat of the previous
year, undertook in 881 a new campaign against the Greek towns of Taormina and
Catania on the east coast, in the course of which he defeated the strategos
The situation improved slightly for the Byzantines at the end of that year, and
in 882, when they were able to win in two encounters. The second victory at
Caltavuturo (north-central Sicily, SW of Cefalu), won by the stratopedarch* [field
commander] Musilikes, was, says Rodriquez, especially “remarkable”, or, as
Ahmad says, a “distastrous” defeat for the Muslims (p.16).

(*) Evidently this was a title given to eunuchs serving as high commanders (cf
Talbot & Sullivan, introd. to Leo Diac. 2005: 37). Eunuchs were permited to hold
all the high offices save only those of the City Prefect, Quaestor [senior judge and
legislative clerk], commander of the four Tagmatic regiments and of course the

throne itself (Norwich 1993: 130).

This failure led to the fall of the Muslim governor Abbas and his replacement by
Mohamed b. Fadl who resumed (882-83) the incursions into Greek territory and
was able to repel chelandia (warships) sent to sack the north coast of the island.
In a new battle, the imperialists lost “3,000” men and saw their possessions
reduced to the territories on the eastern coast of the island, in the plain between
the Mt Peloritanos and Mt Etna. However, the division among the Muslim Sicilians,
the instability and brief reigns of their governors, and the fragile balance of their
relations with Africa, prevented for a further generation the unification of forces
that might have applied a definitive blow to the debilitated position of Byzantium
in the island (thus Rodriquez). See 902.

Italy: Reassertion of Byzantine power over Calabria and part of Apulia. Cf 882/83:
eastern troops under Stephen Maxentius campaign in Italy.

c. 882 (before 892):

Partly as a response to the danger from Muslim Crete, the Byzantine government
created a naval Theme of Samos - headquartered in the eastern Aegean: off
the SW coast of Asia Minor, near Ephesus - by separation from the naval Theme of
the Aegean Sea. Cf 892.
Treadgold, Army 1995: 67, 76, offers the following numbers for oarsmen and
marines in 899: imperial fleet (central) 19,600 rowers and 4,000 marines;
Cibyrrhaeots 5,710 and 1,000 marines; Samos 3,980 and 600 marines; (north)
Aegean Sea 2,610 and 400 marines; and Hellas 2,300 and 2,000 troops [perhaps
400 marines and 1,600 land-soldiers]. Overall total rowers: 34,200.
This was enough men to man 152 smaller dromons and 57 larger dromons, i.e.
over 200 galleys. Samos would have had about 25 of these.
Other evidence suggests that in fact the navy may have numbered 240-300
ships (presumably including some types smaller than a standard dromon of 100
oarsmen). The Arab chronicler Tabari put the Byzantine fleet at 300 ships in 852,
i.e. even before it was expanded by Basil I. And, not including Hellas, the total
regular fleet amounted to 240 ships in 949. Then Leo the Deacon speaks again of
300 ships available in 971.
We know that on one occasion “merchantmen” were used to take troops and
equipment to Italy (Leo Diac. 65.20). So the “307” ships sent against Crete in 960-
61 (see there) probably included some, even many, small requisitioned private
ships, allowing some naval ships to be held back for operations elsewhere
(Treadgold, Army p.85n).

1. Mesopotamia: Basil leads the army east against Melitene; but is forced back.
“Though the balance of military power had definitely been shifted in the
Byzantines’ favour, their advantage over the Arabs was still precarious”
(Treadgold 1997: 460).
Byzantium was now in effective control of the passes through the Taurus and
Anti-Taurus Mountains.

2a. Italy: (or in 881) Saracens capture Agropoli in Campania, on the coast south of
Salerno (Italian Wikipedia 2010, ‘Agropoli’). They turn the town into a base from
which to launch further raids deeper into Italy.

2b. Naples is allied with the Saracens against Byzantium and a battle was fought
at Santa Severina in east-central Calabria (883). See below under 882-85.

3. Russia: Origins of the Viking (Rus) lordship of Kiev: Prince Helgi (“Oleg”) unites
the two points of the “Greek route”, Holmgard (Novgorod) and Kiev. Trade is

established via the Dnieper River down to the Black Sea, and thence to
Byzantium. See 907.

Sicily: Failed Muslim attacks on the Christians of the Catania, Taormina and
Rametta regions (Ahmad p.16). See 885.

Italy: In 882 or 883, after the return of Leo Apostypos, the emperor sent a new
army to Italy, this time under the strategos of Cappadocia, Stephen Maxentius.
Cedrenus and Skylitzes say he took a “picked force” of Thracians [say 1,667],
Macedonians [1,667] and Cappadocians [1,333]. The expedition also included
contingents from elsewhere in Asia Minor: the Anatolikon [say 5,000 men] and
“picked” men from Charsianum (further east) [perhaps 1,333 men], who now
make their first appearance in the Italian sources. Here the bracketed figures are
just a third of the enrolled troops in these themes; so Maxentius may well have
led a force of some 10,000 men.
Maxentius began his attack against the Saracen ‘pirate-bases’. First his troops
attacked Amantea on the instep of Calabria without obtaining any result, and soon
his army was was badly defeated before Santa Severina (an inland town).
Maxentius was recalled and in his place arrived, in 885, Nikephoros Phokas the
elder (or in 884) (thus Rodriquez; also Tobias 2007: 177).

Muslim ‘pirates’ (slavers) in Italy: As noted above, in 882 - or “ca. 881” - Sicilian
Muslims occupied a further military outpost or pirate base (raiding colony) on the
coast of Italy north of Naples at the mouth of the River Garigliano: a little nearer
to Naples than to Rome. They will hold it for over 30 years. They proceed to sack
the abbey of Montecassino in 882-83.
It was fear of nearby Capua that led Gaeta to invite the Aghlabid band to settle
along the Garigliano. The Arabs served as Gaeta’s shield (Kreutz pp.62, 72). Cf

1. The East: A large army was sent against Tarsus under the new army
commander or domestikos ton scholon Kesta Styppeiotes; but they were attacked
at night while unprepared (no proper camp had been dug) and the general was
defeated and killed by the forces of Yaz(a)man al-Khadim, amir of Tarsos (John F.
Haldon, Warfare, state, and society in the Byzantine world, 565-1204,
Routledge,1999 p.185). As noted below, many on the Muslim side were Egyptians,
Cilicia at this time being under Tulunid (Egyptian) suzerainty.

2. Leo, the presumed son of Michael III, is accused of plotting against the
emperor; Basil orders some of Leo’s alleged co-conspirators blinded but Leo
himself is spared.
Leo was imprisoned for three years and his supporter, the general Andrew the
Scythian, was deposed as domestic of the Scholae.

3. Italy: Arabs again sack and destroy Monte Cassino, the great monastery inland
from Capua. See 885.
The towns and duchies of southern Italy refused to form a common anti-
Saracen front under papal auspices; they cooperated with the Byzantines or
aligned themselves with the Saracens in accordance with their individual
ambitions and needs. As a result of this policy, the abbeys of San Vincenzo on the
Volturno and the more famous Monte Cassino were burned and destroyed around
883; the abbey of Farfa, about 60 km from Rome, was besieged in 890; and the
monastery of Subiaco, also about 60 km from Rome, was destroyed.
The Arabs entrenched themselves firmly and comfortably along the Garigliano
river at Trajetto or Traetto [Minturno]* and, more closely to Rome, inland at
Ciciliano and Saracinesco**; from these bases they plundered at will. - Hilmar
Krueger, ‘The Italian Cities’, at

medievalhistory/iib-italiancitiesandarabsbefore1095; accessed March 2008.

(**) Hence the name: 40 km NE of Rome. Ciciliano is 35 km E of Rome.

(*) In 883, a band of Muslims, coming generally from Sicily but also from North
Africa, settled down on the plain of the Garigliano, where the Via Appia ran,
constructing themselves houses and a mosque: “The field of the Garigliano began
to take on the aspect of a town: an outpost strengthened with ramparts (ripari)
and towers; it contained women, children, prisons, booty. The heights of the
nearby hills (i gioghi del vicin colle) [where Minturno is sited] constituted an
extremely safe citadel. The short stretch of the river, navigable to boats, made
the houses comfortable and life easy …” —Italian Wikipedia, 2009, under
‘Traetto’, quoting Michele Amari, Storia dei musulmani di Sicilia, ed. con note a
cura di C. A. Nallino, II, p.191; my bad translation, MO’R.

4. First coins (in silver) minted at Venice (Fossier p.517). Cf 996.

Arab Tactics

David Nicolle has observed that during the ninth century Muslim cavalry were
deployed in a fashion similar to the East Roman pattern – from within the
protection of regular infantry formations. Or so says Leo. Nicolle interprets Leo’s
comment here as ‘probably referring to the Tulunid* army from Egypt that
crushed a Byzantine force near Tarsus in 883 AD’. —Cited by Riedel 2004.

(*) Ahmad b. Tulun (d. 884), the first independent ruler of Muslim Egypt, relied
very heavily on black slaves, probably Nubians, for his armed forces. At his death
he is said - the numbers seem too large - to have left, among other possessions,
24,000 white mamluks [cavalry] and 45,000 blacks [‘Abid: slave infantrymen].
They were organised in separate corps, and accommodated in separate quarters
at the military cantonments. Bernard Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East,
Oxford Univ. Press. 1994, ch.9.

Strategoi in Italy: Casanus seu Cassanus Patricius, A. C. 883. 884. Ioannicius

Candidatus, Stratigo Augustalis, A. C. 884: “Cassano suffectus 884” [?was
appointed (at/by) Cassano?]. Tradezi [sic: Trapezi] Straticus/stratigo, A. C. 886.
Names from Erchempert and Leo of Ostia.

c. 884 (after 883):

E Greece: The fleet of amir Yazaman al-Khadim of Tarsos, “30” large galleys,
attacked the fortress town of Chalcis on the Euripos (west coast of Euboea). The
troops of Oiniates, the strategos of Hellas, used “wet fire” (ygron pyr, our ‘Greek
Fire’) sprayed from the walls of the town to destroy the Muslim ships (Theophanes
Continuatus, cited by Pryor & Jeffreys p.620).

Strategoi in Byzantine Italy, according to Hofmann: Ioannicius Candidatus,

Stratigo Augustalis, A. C. 884. Tradezi Straticus, A. C. 886. Theophylactus Stratigo,
A. C. 887.

1. (or 884:) Italy: Nikêphóros Phokás ‘the older’, the grand-father of the future
emperor of that name, is sent to campaign in Calabria with a large army largely
drawn from the Asian themes. His troops re-conquer, from the Muslims and Latins
(Lombards), lost sections of Calabria and Apulia. All of Calabria was regained
except for the valley of the Crati River in the NE sector: the region beyond
Cosenza and the western shore of the Gulf of Taranto.

Phocas’s Campaign in Calabria

Skylitzes says Nicephorus Phocas senior replaced Stephen Maxentius ‘the

Cappadocian’, who had earlier (see above: 882/83) taken to Italy a “picked force”

of Thracians, Macedonians, Cappadocians and others – perhaps 10,000 men.

Further troops including Paulicians were sent when Nicephorus replaced Stephen;
so the latter’s forces may have numbered as many as 15,000 men.
Interestingly the Paulician tagma or regiment serving under Nicephorus Phocas
the Elder in Apulia was commanded by Diaconitzes, the former trusted ‘groom’ or
aide of the late Chrysocheir, k. 872. (Chrysocheir had died in the arms of the then
young Diaconitzes.) The Byzantines had enrolled a number of the defeated
sectarians after the capture of their capital Tefrike in 878.

Kreutz p.63, no doubt correctly, imagines Phokas’s army as “the largest Byzantine
army seen there in centuries”.

Nicephoros divided his troops into several corps, assigning to them different
objectives. The several Saracen-ruled fortress-towns were attacked
simultaneously. While one corps settled down to the siege of inland Santa
Severina, west of Crotone, another detachment marched west across Calabria to
lay siege to Amantea on the west coast, south-west of Cosenza. This fortress-town
did not take long in succumbing, like the town of Tropea further down, on the
‘pimple’ of the instep (Fossier p.377).
Amantea and Tropea lay on either side of the Gulf of St Euphemia. With them
fell two of the main bastions of the Arabs in western Calabria. (The Arabs had held
Amantea since 839.) Then it was the turn of Santa Severina. With its conquest in
the middle of 886, effectively all of Calabria was into the hands of the Byzantines.
The victors hurried to install garrisons in the conquered towns after deporting the
Muslim population to Sicily, in line with the treaties of surrender (thus Rodriquez;
also Kreutz p.63).

The Lombard chronicler Erchempert writes thus: “Tunc nutu Dei quendam
Agarenum ab Africa evocans Agropolim, inde Garilianum, quo residebant agmina
Hismaelitica, misit; atque omnium illorum mentem accendens eius hortatus
universi Saraceni tam de Gariliano quam de Agropoli comuniter collecti
Calabriam, qua residebat Graecorum exercitus super Saracenos in sancta
Severina commorantes, properarunt ubi et omnes Graicorum gladiis extincti sunt.
Dehinc Amanteum castrum captum est. Deinde et dictae beatae Severinae
oppidum apprehensum est.” —Erchempert, Historia.
My translation: ‘Then by God’s command, summoning certain Agarenes
(Muslims) from Africa, he (?God) sends (them) to Agropoli (*) and thence to
Garigliano, where they were living as/with a troop/column of Ishmailites (Muslims)
[i.e. in a pirate base or raiding colony], and stirring up the minds all of them,
urged them, the massed Saracens, as many from Garigliano as from Agropoli, are
assembled, they hurry to Calabria, where there was located an army of Greeks
[Gracorum exercitus] delaying-detaining-holding back the [other] Saracens in St
Severina; where all [the Saracens] are destroyed/killed by the swords of the
Greeks [Graicorum gladiis]. Next the fortress [castrum] of Amantea is captured.
Then the hill-town [oppidum] of holy-named Severina is occupied.’

(*) Located on the southern promontory of the Gulf of Salerno, Agropoli

had been occupied as a Saracen camp fortress - Ar. rabat, ‘stronghold’,
‘fortified town’ - since 882; it was not to be eliminated by the Christians
until 915 (see there). Cf 886-87 below.

2. Sicily: Failed Muslim attack on Taormina (Ahmad p.16; Metcalfe 2009: 28).

Italy: Formerly a Saracen stronghold, Bari, from 885, becomes the seat of the
Byzantine theme of Apulia - modern Puglia, the ‘heel’ of Italy. See 887.
“Trapezi Straticus, ann. 886. apud Lupum Protosp.” – ‘According to Lupus the
strategus in Italy in 886 was Trapezi’ (du Cange). In fact ‘Trapezi’ was the title of

the imperial butler, Constantine, who arrived in 887 to assist the strategus

2. Bulgarian Albania: The Byzantine missionaries Cyril and Methodius arrive in

western Bulgaria, as it then was - Ohrid/a in modern FYROM, - bearing liturgical
books in Slavonic. Two “schools” of Slavic literacy emerged thereafter: that of
Ochrida and that of Preslav.

885-86: Frankish or Carolingian forces defeat a major Viking (Danish) siege

of the river-island village of Paris. The Vikings are said to have come up
the river Seine during winter in “700” vessels (the figure given by the
monk Abbo). This figure seems far too large: 700 longboats at (say) 40
men per boat is 28,000 Danes; such a number would easily have
overwhelmed the small town. We do better to believe that the true figure
was 70 x 40 = 2,800 men.

The Caliph restores independence to the Christian kings of Armenia and Iberia.
See 915.
Restoration of the Armenian monarchy: both Baghdad and Constantinople
recognise Ashot Bagratuni as “king of kings” in Armenia: “prince of princes of
Armenia, Georgia and the lands of the Caucasus”; rendered as archon ton
archonton or ‘lord of lords’ by Byzantium. See 890.

Beardless Italians and Franks

Harun ibn Yahya was held as a prisoner of war by the Byzantines in

Constantinople. After being set free, he travelled to Rome. This visit probably took
place in the year 886. In that city, governed by a “king” called ‘Bab’, i.e. Papa or
Pope, he was most taken aback by the Italians’ habit of shaving their beards
which Muslims and Byzantines did not do.
“I asked them why they shaved their beards and told them that a man’s beauty
is in his beard. What is your purpose in doing this? They answered that any man
who does not shave his beard is not a true Christian. Because when Simon and
the apostles came to us, they had neither shoes nor sticks, and were poor and
weak, while we were kings, dressed in brocade and seated upon gold. They called
us to the Christian religion, but we did not answer them. We arrested them and
tortured them and shaved off their hair and beards. Once we had realized the
truth of their words, we began to shave our beards to atone for the sin of shaving
their beards.”
— A curious story for post-Longobard (‘long-9999’) Italy! But evidently many in
the Latin West were shaving by the 9th century, although many still had beards.
The Franks seem never to have emphasised beards. Already in the 400s Sidonius
writes thus: “Their faces are shaven all round, and instead of beards they have
thin moustaches which they run through with a comb.”
—Carolingian images of Christ are distinguishable from Eastern icons by the
absence of a beard and the presence of youthful muscles. Or rather, some
Carolingian images of Christ were beardless; and Byzantine ones never so (after
about 600).
— And Charles the Bald’s “Metz Sacramentary” of c. 869/70 and the Codex
Aureus of St. Emmeram show everyone clean-shaven (although in other
illustrations we do see moustaches). And the decrees or synods held under
Charlemagne had ordered the clergy to be clean-shaven so that they would not
appear like the ‘barbarians’ (non-Christians) of Northern-Central Europe. For
example, at the Council of Aachen (816), it was stipulated that priests and monks
were to shave every two weeks.
— Evidently the beard as a symbol of royal dignity was not fashionable in the
West until the era of the Ottonians, after 912: copied, one may guess, from the

Basil I died, aged about 75, in August 886, supposedly from wounds sustained
during a hunting accident. He contracted a fever after a serious hunting accident
when his belt was caught in the antlers of a deer, and he was dragged 16 miles
through the woods. He was saved by an attendant who cut him loose with a knife,
but he suspected the attendant of trying to assassinate him and had the man
executed shortly before he himself died. Some, however, have suggested that he
finally fell victim to a conspiracy, orchestrated by Stylianus Zaoutzes, the father of
Leo's mistress. —Tougher 1997: 61-62.

886-912: LEO VI ‘the Wise’,

Gk: Leon Sophotatos

Son of the empress Eudocia Ingerina, Leo was aged nearly 20 at

accession. Although officially regarded as Basil’s son, he was more
probably the illegitimate son of Michael III.

Leo had four wives in turn: 1. Theophano, d. 897; 2. Zoe Zautzina, d.

899; 3. Eudocia Baena d. 901; and 4. Zoe Carbonopsina (married Leo

Warren Treadgold describes him as senitive and cultivated, and a

competent and responsible ruler. “On the whole his reign was a
successful one” (1997: 462, 470).

GO HERE for an excellent photograph of the votive crown of Leo:

Of scholarly taste and weak health, Leo took no part in the military campaigns of
his reign. Nevertheless, he initiated a revival of East Roman military science,
publishing an important treatise on tactics (the Taktika) and many other literary
and legal works. For example, his legal edict, the Basilica, was a revised version of
Justinian’s Codex.

The Book of the Prefect, which he issued, prescribes regulations minutely

controlling the craft guilds (somata) of the capital. For the sake of political
stability, the government sought to keep supplies of essential food, clothing and
other commodities flowing regularly and at stable prices. It was feared that free
trade would allow hoarding, which would stimulate or aggravate price rises and
lead to popular disaffection (Browning p.107). Cf 894.

The Seclusion of Women

One of the few forms of recreation available to young girls - in the capital: baths
were uncommon in the provinces - was excursions to a public bath, where they
might linger to chat with friends and share a picnic. A well-brought-up young
woman like Theophano, the future wife of Leo VI (acc. 886), did not venture forth
to the bath until dusk so as to reduce the chances of being exposed to the
glances of strangers; she was carefully chaperoned by servants while outside the

c. 886:
Italy: After his successful campaign of 885, general Phokas planted Armenians as
settlers in Calabria (Toynbee p.86).
Basil I’s army re-established Imperial rule across most of South Italy and
expelled the Muslims from the entire Dalmatian coast, but he failed to recover
Sicily and Crete.
East Roman rule had been re-established in the boot of Italy through the

capture or subjection of the cities of Benevento (in 873) and Bari (876). As noted,
the Lombard/Italian and Saracen-held parts of Apulia and Calabria were recovered
in 885-886 by Basil’s general Nikephoros Phokas (‘the Elder’: grandfather of the
future emperor of that name). This led to a three-way contest in S Italy between
the Franks (Germans) as hegemons in the West, the Rhomaioi and the Muslims.

Italy: “Anno 886. facta fuit proditio in Baro mense Iunij, quando Princeps fecit
proelium cum Stratigo Trapezi, et Graecis.” ‘Treason was committed in Bari in
June when the Prince* made battle with the strategos Trapezus** and the Greeks.’
– Lupus Prot., Annales.

(*) That is, prince Aio [Aiulf] of Beneventum. See more details under 887.

(**) Trapezus was actually one of his previous appointments: Gk ho epi

tees trapezes, the Master of the Table or imperial butler; his name was
Constantine, with the title of patrikios. Alternatively the strategos in 886
was Theophylact, Constantine being the more senior general who arrived
in 887 to recover Bari.

886: England: Alfred of Wessex takes London from the Danes.

1. Civil war among the Saracens in Africa and Italy (and again in 889-94); this
gave a respite to the remaining Greek towns in Sicily such as Taormina – until

2. Italy: In 886, Guaimar of Salerno travelled with Lando II of Capua to

Constantinople and did homage, returning in 887 with the title of ‘patrician’ from
the emperor. He received a contingent of Byzantine troops - “mercenaries” so-
called, which would simply mean full-time professionals - and returned to ward off
the Saracen menace, the pirates of Agropoli. But Salerno’s relationship with
Byzantium soon soured over the struggle for Benevento. See next.

1. (or in 886) Italy: The Romaniyan (Greek) strategos, Theophylact, marches from
Bari into Campania, ostensibly to attack the Garigliano Arabs, but he prefers to
attack several Beneventan towns. Aio of Benevento leads a counter-attack in
which he manages to take Byzantine Bari (Kreutz p.65).
Lombard-Italians briefly recover Bari with Arab help (887), but the town is
quickly recaptured by the Byzantines (888). See 891.

The Byzantine force was employed by the Salerno ruler Guaimar I. The
Beneventan ruler, Aio, angered by the Byzantines’ aggression toward Lombard
land, retaliates by taking Bari from the Byzantines. However, the fighting in Bari
left Benevento unprotected. Athanasius II, duke of Naples, taking advantage of
the situation, enters Benevento. Aio, however, rushes back to retake Benevento
and ravages the ‘Terra di Lavoro’, the Naples-Capua region. Within a year the
army of Leo VI (Leo the Wise) reclaims Bari for Byzantium (Kreutz p.65). It would
stay Byzantine for another 180 years. Cf 891.

At this time the non-Byzantine half of the Mezzogiorno consisted of three fairly
extensive Lombard (Latin) domains, namely Capua, Benevento and Salerno, while
Gaeta and Naples were independent Greco-Italian city-states or port-towns on the
The maritime city-states of S Italy – Gaeta, Naples and Amalfi, the latter only
nominally subject to Naples since 839 - were half-Greek, half-Latin in culture and
acknowledged the Romanian (Greek) emperor as their overlord. We may say they
were ‘independent within the empire’. The common people spoke Latin, or rather:
Romance, proto-Italian; while the upper classes knew both Greek and Latin
(Runciman 1963: 181). The Lombard duchies – Capua, Benevento and Salerno,

the latter a coastal town whose extensive inland domains extended to N Calabria
– were entirely Romance speaking, the Lombardic (Germanic)* language having
almost entirely died out by this time.

(*) Not be be confused with “Lombard”, the Romance dialect spoken in

‘Lombardy’, the greater Milan region.

2. Dalmatia: As Venice’s maritime activity in the Adriatic expanded, she soon

came up against the Slavic ‘pirates’ so-called, i.e. local farmers and herders who
also engaged in fishing and seaborne pillaging.
The chief pirates nest or base was at the mouth of the Narenta (Neretva) River,
which gave its name to the ‘Narentine’ pirates. Their land, located in what is now
Croatian Dalmatia, below Split, was also called “Pagania”. As with the Byzantines
and later the Turks, Venice entertained both commercial and warlike relations
with these people, the doge Pietro I Candiano perishing in an encounter with them
in 887.
The Venetians launched a military attempt against the Serbo-Dalmatian
Principality of Pagania. The doge advanced with a fleet of 12 galleys to the port-
village of Mokro, where he sank five Narentine ships. This was the main Narentine
town: modern Makarska, SE of Split.* He landed near Mokro and advanced deeper
inland, but the Narentines crushed his forces, killing him in open battle on 18
September 887 (Wikipedia, 2009, under ‘Pietro’).

(*) The eastsrn point of the large island of Brac (Bratj) points at Makaraka.

Constantine VII writing in the 900s:

"From the river Orontius begins Pagania and stretches along as far as the river
Zentina; it has three 'zhupanates', Rhastotza [Rastik or Rastoka] and Mokros
[Makarska] and that of Dalenos. Two of these 'zhupanates', viz., Rhastotza and
that of Mokros], lie on the sea, and possess galleys; but that of Dalenos lies
distant from the sea, and they live by agriculture. . . . Neighbour to them are four
islands, Meleta [Mljet], Kourkoura [Korchula], Bratza [Brach] and Pharos [Hvar]*,
most fair and fertile, with deserted cities [read: villages] upon them and many
olive-yards; on these they dwell and keep their flocks, from which they live” (DAI
trans. 1967 p.145).

(*) Modern Croatia. The four largest of the islands off Split and Dubrovnik
are: 1 Brach, south of Split: Italian Brazza, 2 Hvar [It. Lesina], 3 Korchula
[It. Curzola] and 4 Mljet (east of Dubrovnik: It. Meleda).

Final dissolution of a united Frankish kingdom. This marks the early origin of
France, Germany and (northern) Italy. The south of Italy was divided among three
Lombard-Italian duchies and Byzantium. (In due course the German king will
annex northern Italy, including the papal state – see 961.)

Sicily: The Jewish badge of shame, which afterwards became universal in the
Western world, was first introduced into Europe as a measure of
discrimination against Christians as well as Jews by the Sicilian ruler Ibrahim
in 887-8; the Christians had to wear and display on the doors of their houses
a piece of white stuff designed like a pig, and the Jews a piece in the shape
of a monkey. The yellow badge had been first introduced by a caliph in
Baghdad in the ninth century, and spread to the West in medieval times.
Lewis 1987: 25-26.

Above: Italy and Balkans in the late 800s. It shows Byzantine “Langobardia”
(modern Puglia) which received that name in 891-92; and Bulgarian expansion
south-westwards to Ohrid (before 890). Bulgaria should be labelled a khanate, as
its ruler did not assume the title tsar (emperor) until the early 900s.
The “Macedonia” marked here is the Theme (province) of that name;
Macedonia proper is here marked “Salonica”. The Theme of Strymon (NE
Macedonia and western Thrace) was created in the late 890s.

Territorial review

The empire in 888 consists of: [1] the immense heartland of Asia Minor; [2]
Constantinople and Thrace: the Bulgarians are the nearest enemy; [3] coastal
Macedonia; [4] nearly all of present-day Greece (not including the border region
of western Thrace-northeast Macedonia, where in 888, according to McEvedy’s
New Atlas, the Bulgarians still hold a stretch of the coast on the NW Aegean); and
[5] the boot of Italy - along with just a few strongholds in eastern Sicily: see AD
The rest of Italy was divided between Lombard-Italians and Franks. Muslim
states dominated the whole southern rim and centre of the Mediterranean, from
Umayyad Spain to Aghlabid Sicily and Tulunid Egypt-Syria.

If one looks back for over a century, and compares AD 771 with 888, then the
areas lost to the empire were: Sardinia (independent); most of Sicily [lost to the
African Muslims]; Crete [to Muslim freebooters]; and western Cilicia [to the
caliphate]. The gains are: in Italy, the littoral of the Gulf of Taranto and most of
upper Apulia – variously recovered from Arab pirates, Latin Salerno and Lombard
Benevento; and in the Balkans: the western three-quarters of modern Greece
[from Slav tribes].
So in 888 the empire is marginally smaller in area – but also more prosperous.
The armed forces - army and naval marines - have increased in size (if we follow
Treadgold) from about 80,000 fighting men to about 120,000 (up by 50%). The
navy is no larger but is better organised.

Strategoi in Italy, as listed in J J Hofmann’s Lexicon Universale (1698):

(a) “Constantinus Patricius, qui et Trapezi seu epi tes trapezes, [Gk ho epi tees
trapezes, the Master of the Table or imperial butler], Praefectus mensae
Augustali” [Lat. ‘prefect of the imperial table’], AD. 887-889.
(b) “Symbaticus Protospatharius, qui et strategos i.e. Dux Macedoniae, Thraciae,
Cephaloniae atque Longobardiae.” = ‘The protospatharius Symbatikos,
general and overall commander [dux] of Macedonia, Thrace, Cephalonia [the
Ionian Islands] and Longobardia [Puglia].’ - Beneventum cepit [“he captured

Benevento”] [in] AD 891. See there.

(c) Georgius Patricius, cum Benevento praefuisset [“had been in charge of
Benevento”] ann. 3. mens. 9. [“for three years and nine months”] a Guidone
Duce et Marchione una cum Graecis inde pulsus est [“was struck, beaten”, i.e.
killed by duke and margrave Guido: Guy IV of Spoleto]. Huic successit
Barsacius Patricius.*
- J B Bury, “System” 1911b, p.17, notes that George, appointed in 892, held
the post of ‘strategos of Cephallenia and Longobardia’.
(d) “Cosmas Anthius Protopatricius, Basilicus Protonotarius** et Straticos [sic:
strategus] Siciliae ac Longobardiae”, AD 893.

(*) After the death of George in July 894: see there, the patrikios Barsacios arrived
in Italy as his successor. He returned to establish his residence in Bari, leaving the
turmarch or “brigadier” Theodore as his delegate in Benevento.

(**) Gk basiliskos: financial official; protonotarios, chief secretary and civil official
under a strategos, responsible for provisioning thematic armies.

The West: A large fleet sent from Constantinople was mauled by the Arabs north
of Sicily.
Around 887-88, Leo VI sent an expedition to Italy under the command of
Constantine, the patrikios and ho epi tees (tes) trapezes, Master of the Table or
imperial butler. Historians do not say expressly that Constantine was a eunuch,
but his position as ho epi tes trapezes suffices to indicate it (Guilland, citing Cedr.
II 52, 725).
Placed at the head of the western provinces, Constantine was defeated (888 or
889); his army was annihilated and he himself barely escaped (Cedr. II 253;
Theoph. Cont. 356, 701, 852, 852. – See J. Gay, L’Italie méridionale, 143 f.).
This seems to have checked the brief revival of the Byzantine navy, says
Hocker in Gardiner 2004: 92. At any rate, Pryor & Jeffreys p.385 list it as one of
the more disastrous defeats suffered by the imperial navy.

A Muslim counter-attack began in AH 275, AD 888, and ended in the waters of

Milazzo, on the north coast of Sicily, near the NE tip, with the rout (889) of the
Romanic expedition, the sack of the mainland town of Reggio and the resumption
of the raids, henceforth continuous, into the interior of Calabria: see next.
Rodriquez: The imperial fleet faced the Arab ships off Milazzo. The battle ended
in “a real disaster” for the Greeks, who lost “more than 10,000” men. The result
was panic in southern Italy. Reggio was deserted when the Arabs sacked it. See
further description below under 888-89.
In 888 emperor Leo recognised that the Byzantine forces in Italy were too weak
to be able to decisively incline the situation in their favour, and therefore the
shipment of new troops was necessary. The commander he dispatched,
Constantine, according to the chronicles, had under his control “all the troops of
the West” (meaning detachments from the various European provinces). On the
other side, the Beneventan ruler, Aio, had taken into his service a body of Saracen
mercenaries and, with their aid, he had offered battle to the newly arrived
Byzantines under the walls of Bari (887). The result was a total defeat for the
imperial army, whose commander with great difficulty was able to save his life.
Instead of the open combat, the Byzantines chose to force Aio to lock himself in
Bari which was blockaded. Deserted by his Saracens, the prince of Benevento in
vain tried to ask aid from the count of Capua, Atenolfo. The latter changed sides
and, instead of helping his benefactor, offered help to Constantine in return for an
imperial title that equaled his rival’s in Salerno. Deserted by all, Aio chose to
negotiate with Constantine, and in 888 Bari returned to Romaniyan (Greek)
rule. See 891.

2. The new Doge or duke Peter (Pietro) Tribuno declared Venice, hitherto a
nominally Romanic/Byzantine city within the Frankish Kingdom of Italy, a free city.
But Venice remained politically and culturally oriented to Constantinople.

3. Constantinople: Promulgation of a new re-compilation and revision of the law,

later to be known as the Basilika (“Imperial Code”). The project had been begun
by Basil I.

fl. Al-Tabari, the Arab historian. Born in Tabaristan, the region south of the
Caspian, he travelled to Syria and Egypt before settling in Baghdad. Author
of commentaries on the Quran and a universal history, the Annals.

(Or 890 or 891:) Saracens from Spain set up a military outpost on what is
now the littoral of southern France at Garde-Freinet, inland from the coast
of Provence, between Cannes and St Tropez. A Hispano-Arab force from al-
Andalus captured the highland village of La Garde-Freinet (Fraxinetum), 15
km NW of St Tropez, west of Ste. Maxime, above the Mediterranean coast
between Marseilles and Nice, in 891 and held it as a fortress for almost a
century, using it as a small colony and a base for maritime and overland
raids. The colony eventually extended over the whole district (about 400
sq km) including the St Tropez peninsula (Sénac, Zones côtières, p.115).
It endured until well into the next century. The Muslims called their base
Fraxinet (in Arabic, Farakhshanit and Jabal al-Qilal*), after the local village
of Fraxinetum, named in Roman times for the ash trees (fraxini) then
common in surrounding forests. Cf 906, 911.
The modern Massif des Maures ("plateau of the Moors"), west of St
Tropez, takes its name from the Saracens of Fraxinet.

(*) ‘Mountain of [many] Peaks/Towers’, referring to our Massif des Maures.

Italy: The Sicilian Arabs launch a new attack, this time in the region of Reggio. As
we have seen, a Byzantine fleet crossed the Straits of Messina but, as noted, was
defeated completely (888) near Milazzo on the NE coast of Sicily: ‘around the
corner’ from Messina. The news of the disaster caused panic in the region,
impelling the inhabitants of the towns to leave their homes and to look for refuge
in the interior.
The situation improved shortly afterwards when the drungarios Michael
counter-attacked, took prisoner the head of the Arab fleet, Mujbir b. Ibrahim, and
regained control of the passage of the Straits. In the following years, 889-94,
internal discord in Muslim Sicily allowed Calabria, and the Greek outposts in
eastern Sicily, to experience a brief respite (Ahmad pp.16, 21). This may also
have facilitated the Byzantine advance in Apulia: see 891.

888-898: Italy: First “national” or indigenous kings in ex-Frankish, post-

Lombard Italy. The dukes of Spoleto forced the pope to crown them as
‘emperors’. Cf 891.

Abdication of Bulgarian khan Boris. Cf 893.

889-92: The Ukrainian steppe: Driven further west by the Khazars and
Cumans by 889, the Pechenegs in turn drove the Magyars (Hungarians)
west of the Dnieper River by 892.

The new king of Armenia, Sembat or Smbat, adopts a pro-Byzantine stance, which
sets him against Baghdad. See 909.

From 890:
1. Northern Mesopotamia (seat at Mardin from 890) is ruled by the Hamdanid
dynasty, later also at Mosul (Mawsil) (from 906) and Aleppo (from 945).

2. Permanent Muslim outposts in Provence. See 932.


Italy: Leo shipped an army from the Balkans to Italy. The Romanics take the
“Lombard”-ruled ‘city’ [fortress-town] of Benevento and hold it until 894-95.
Lupus: “Anno 891. intraverunt Graeci Beneventum mense Octobris, et Stratigo
Sabbatichi in Siponto mense Iunij.” ‘The Greeks enter Benevento in October and
the strategos Simbaticios [enters] Siponto [on the Adriatic coast] in June.’

On 18 August 891 the strategos of Calabria, the protospatharius* Simbaticios [Gk

Symbatikios], arrived with his army before the walls of Benevento but met with a
determined resistance on the part of the local population. One Latin source gives
his title as “Dux Macedoniae, Thraciae, Cephaloniae atque Longobardiae”, but this
probably meant only that he had among his forces detachments from the themes
of Macedonia, Thrace and Cephalonia. A siege of three months finally forced the
Beneventans to capitulate on 18 October.
Simbaticios transferred the government of the Byzantine province from its seat
in Bari to the new possession and immediately set up residence there, turning it
into the new capital of the imperial territories in Italy (Kreutz p.65; also
Rodriguez). It remained the capital until 895: see there.

(*) This was a high court title, i.e. not an office. Leo of Ostia calls him ‘Dux
Macedoniæ, Thraciæ, Cephaloniæ atque Longobardiæ’.

Noting that the Byzantine term for the principality of Benevento was (lesser)
Longobardia, and that the contrasting term ‘Greater Longobardia’ designated the
former northern Lombard kingdom, it is (says Rodriguez) possible to deduce that
the Theme of Longobardia (Gk: Lagoubardoi or Loggibardai: Laghouvardhía in
Toynbee’s transliteration, 1973) was constituted at that precise moment, after the
conquest of Benevento in October 891 or early in 892. Kreutz p. 66 and the ODB
ii:1250 agree; others think Apulia was not separated from Cephalonia until after
900. The first surviving mention of a distinct strategos of Longobardia comes in

From the new capital, Simbaticios now began to manage civil affairs, as shown in
a document dated to June of 892 recognising privileges for the Montecassino
monastery. See 895.

By 900, Rhomaniya/Byzantium will dominate the whole south of Italy, with the
Latin Italians (“Lombards”) retaining only parts of the Capua-Salerno plain and the
south-central Apennines.

Scientific Warfare and its Opposite

The Byzantines saw themselves as cautious and careful, seeking to fight only
when the timing or terrain suited them. The Greeks fought with disciplined order
in separate units which by organisation and drill were readily able to manoeuvre
on the battlefield. Latin methods of warfare were very different.

From Emperor Leo’s Tactica, c.907: “The Franks and Lombards (Italians) are bold
and daring to excess, though the latter are no longer all that they once were.
They regard the smallest movement to the rear as a disgrace, and they will fight
whenever you offer them battle. When their knights are hard put to it in a cavalry
fight, they will turn their horses loose, dismount, and stand back to back against
very superior numbers rather than fly.
So formidable is the charge of the Frankish chivalry with their broadsword,
lance [spear*] and shield, that it is best to decline a pitched battle with them till
you have put all the chances on your own side. You should take advantage of
their indiscipline and disorder; whether fighting on foot or on horseback, they

charge in dense, unwieldy masses, which cannot manoeuvre, because they have
neither organisation nor drill” (emphasis added).

(*) The method of couching the spear or lance under one’s arm for the
charge was not in use. The cavalry spear was used for thrusting, stabbing
and poking.

Unlike the Franks, the East Romans had inherited the discipline of Antiquity: they
formed up carefully and they fortified their camp every night with a ditch and
palisade (Leo Diac. IX: 1).
Appropriate tactics against the Franks included flank and rear attacks and
feigned retreats: “Tribes and families [among the Franks] stand together, or the
sworn war-bands of chiefs, but there is nothing to compare to our own orderly
division into battalions and brigades. Hence they readily fall into confusion if
suddenly attacked in flank and rear – a thing easy to accomplish, as they are
utterly careless and neglect the use of pickets and vedettes [scouts] and the
proper surveying of the countryside. They encamp, too, confusedly and without
fortifying themselves, so that they can be easily cut up by a night attack. Nothing
succeeds better against them than a feigned flight, which draws them into an
ambush; for they follow hastily, and invariably fall into the snare” (thus Leo).

The Franks were to be worn down and, when convenient, bribed:

“. . . perhaps the best tactics of all are to protract the campaign, and lead them
into hills and desolate tracts, for they take no care about their commissariat, and
when their stores run low their vigour melts away. They are impatient of hunger
and thirst, and after a few days of privation desert their standards and steal away
home as best they can. For they are destitute of all respect for their commanders,
- one noble thinks himself as good as another, - and they will deliberately disobey
orders when they grow discontented. Nor are their chiefs above the temptation of
taking bribes; a moderate sum of money will frustrate one of their expeditions. On
the whole, therefore, it is easier and less costly to wear out a Frankish army by
skirmishes, protracted operations in desolate districts, and the cutting off of its
supplies, than to attempt to destroy it at a single blow.”



Italy: Aio of Benevento dies, 891. Marching from Bari, the Byzantines under
Symbatikios take Benevento (October 892), ousting Aio’s [Aiulf’s] successor Ursus
or Orso (as we have related). The Byzantines expand, taking several Lombard
territories: the Chronicon Salernitanum records that, after the Byzantine capture
of Benevento in 892, the Byzantines unsuccessfully attempted to capture Salerno.
-Kreutz 1996, p. 66 and 178 footnote 51.
As we have also noted, Leo VI sets a formal mechanism of governance in
southern Italy centred around Benevento which becomes – briefly - the new seat
of the strategos of Apulia (Kreutz p.65). Cf 894-95. Probably from about this time
(892), all of the reclaimed and newly conquered land – the upper back heel – is
renamed Longobardia, Gk: Lagghouvardhìa, although, as we have said, the first
documentary reference that survives occurs in 910-11. Calabria itself, ruled from
Reggio/Rhegium, still bore the anachronistic title of ‘theme of Sicily’ (where
Byzantium now held only several towns on the east coast). Cf 895.

Bulgaria: In 892, Pliska became the scene of a pagan revolt led by khan Vladimir.
This brought the old khan Boris out of his monastery. After the crushing of the
revolt, Vladimir was dethroned, and the younger son of Boris I, Simeon, was
installed into power. One of the first steps of the new ruler was to move (893) the
capital SW to Preslav, a fortified town, probably because of the steadily strong
pagan influence in the old capital (Fine 1991: 130). Cf 893.

2. Arabs from Crete plunder Samos in the Aegean. Cf 899, 904.

3. Treaty between Tulunid Egypt and the Caliphate: the latter retained
Mawsil/Mosul, but most of Mesopotamia and Syria was ceded to Egyptian rule.



Caliph al-Mu’tadid. Cf 897.
Baghdad may have had 500,000 people. Fossier p.249 notes that its area was
at least four times that of Constantinople and 13 times as large as nearby
Ctesiphon had been under the 6th century Sassanids.

Bulgaria: As noted, finding his eldest son Vladimir flirting with paganism, the old
khan Boris emerged from his monastery, blinded him, and lifted a younger son,
the ‘Greek’-educated* SYMEON (aged about 30), to the throne of Bulgaria.
Symeon would become the most powerful of the early Bulgarian rulers, taking the
title Tsar in abouy 913.
His accession was announced at an assembly in Preslav which also proclaimed
Bulgarian (Slavonic) as the only language of state and church and directed that
the Bulgarian capital would move from Pliska to Preslav, near present-day
Shumen (inland, west of Varna). Topographically Preslav lies at the northern foot
of the Balkan Mountains.

(*) He was expected to become a cleric, so spent some 10 years in

Constantinople studying Greek, theology and other subjects. Such was the
influx of things Greek into Bulgaria from 864 that Symeon must have gone
to the City (c. 878: aged about 14) already proficient in the language. He
attended the academy in the Magnaura Palace. Liutprand of Cremona
confirms that Symeon also studied profane learning, i.e. Aristotle and other
classical authors.

The Bulgarian capital is transferred from old pagan Pliska, near the modern village
of Pliskov-Aboba, south to new Christian Preslav [afterwards called Ioannoupolis
in Greek], a better strategic point and less linked with Bulgaria’s pagan past Cf
Greek was replaced by Slavonic as the church language and the “Cyrillic” script
adopted … By this time, no Turkic culture remained among the ruling caste of
Bulgarians: they had long since become a fully Slavic people (Obolensky pp.92,
The year 893 marks the coming of age of the Bulgarian Slav church. At a
council he summoned in the autumn of that year, Boris installed Symeon as the
new ruler and decreed the official adoption of the Slav language in the church. By
about 920 some observers will describe Preslav as rivalling Constantinople in its
magnificence (no doubt a great exaggeration!).

The Bulgarians still ruled on both sides of the lower Danube; the northern side
was contested with the Magyars and Pechenegs.


GO HERE for a map of the Balkans in 893:

1. (c. 889-93 is preferred by McCormick 2001: 606). The Balkans: Byzantium, or
rather certain scheming officials in Greece, transfers the point of Bulgarian trade
from the capital to Thessalonica, i.e. so as to rake off the export-import taxes.*

When his protest is ignored, khan Symeon invades Thrace. As McCormick

remarks, at the eastern end of the Danubian route a trading world had grown up
whose commerce was valuable enough to start wars.

(*) Trade with Bulgaria: Manufactured items, notably dyed silken robes,
were exported from Byzantium in exchange for Bulgarian wheat, cattle,
linen and honey. Thus the Book of the Prefect, c. 912, records merchants
in Constantinople bartering with Bulgar traders bringing honey and linen
from the North. At this time, silk was produced only in Constantinople
itself, but in the next century came to be produced in other cities. Cf 950,

Emperor Leo responds by calling in the pagan Magyars [Hungarians (*)] from the
north - present-day western Ukraine; and dispatches an imperial army under
general Nicephorus Phocas from the south.

(*) Hungarian is a Finno-Ugric language, with connections to Turkish and

the languages of Central Asia. The Hungarians or Magyars came into
eastern Europe in 895 AD (see more below), crossing the Carpathians from
what is now Ukraine and thereafter conquering the Slavs who lived in the
Pannonian basin (and thereby dividing the south Slavs from the Czechs,
Slovaks and Poles).

Emperor Leo invoked the help of the Magyars, who sent an army under a
commander named Levente (Arpad’s son) into Bulgaria. Levente conducted an
effective campaign and invaded deep into Bulgaria, while the Byzantine army
entered Bulgaria from the south. Caught in a vice of Magyar and Romanic forces,
Tsar Simeon I realized he could not fight a war on two fronts, and quickly
concluded an armistice with the Byzantine Empire.
Ferried across the lower Danube in Romanian (‘Greek’) boats, the Magyars
sacked the new Bulgarian capital Preslav. Symeon sues for peace; but while
negotiations proceed, he in turn calls in the Pechenegs - also known as
Patzinaks: a Turkish nation living in what is now eastern Ukraine, - who remove
the Magyars … the latter flee into what is now Hungary (the Pannonian plain)
(896) (Vine 1991: 138).
The Magyars’ quick success worried Leo, who switched sides, offering his
support to the Bulgarians and recruiting the Besenyos (Pechenegs) to their aid.
Their combined forces defeated the united Magyar armies in a battle in which
thoer commander Levente was killed and all parties suffered heavy losses (DAI,
ch 38).

2. Italy: “Anno 894.[actually in 895] exierunt Graeci de Benevento mense Aug.

per Francos”. ‘The Greeks leave [are forced out of] Benevento in August on
account of (by) the Franks [i.e. Frankish-ruled northern Italians*]’. – Lupus Prot.
After the death of George in July 894, the patrikios Barsacios arrived in Italy as
his successor. He returned to establish his residence in Bari, leaving the turmarch
or “brigadier” Theodore as his delegate in Benevento. (A turma numbered several
thousand soldiers; turmarch was the title of deputy to a strategos.)
The Beneventans now chose to try to expel the Byzantine garrison. Guido or
Guy, Lombard-Frankish margrave of Spoleto*, came south to the aid of the former
in August 895, bringing his Frankish (German) troops before the walls of the town.
The attempts of Theodore to gain reinforcements from Bari were useless in the
face of the collaboration of the local population with the Lombard-Spoletan
attackers who secretly entered the city [7 August 1895] and collaborated
energetically in the expulsion of the small Byzantine garrison. After his victory
Guido retained control of Benevento for two years instead of giving it back to the
old dynasty (Kreutz pp.66-67).

(*) Spoleto under duke Guy IV, 889-97, was a realm within the Carolingian
(Frankish) kingdom of Italy.

1. Bulgarian War: The experienced commander Nikephoros Phokas was called
back from Italy to lead a separate army against Bulgaria in 895 with the mere
intention of overawing the Bulgarians. Simeon’s Bulgarians, unaware of the threat
from the Magyars in the north, rushed to meet Phokas' forces, but the two armies
did not engage in a fight. Instead, the Byzantines offered peace, informing him of
both the Romaniyan (‘Greek’) land and maritime campaigns, but intentionally
they did not notify him of the planned Magyar attack.
Once notified of the surprise invasion, however, Simeon headed north to stop
the Magyars, leaving some of his troops at the southern border to prevent a
possible attack by Phokas. Simeon's two encounters with the northern enemy in
Northern Dobruja resulted in Magyar victories, forcing him to retreat to Drastar
(Silistria). After pillaging much of Bulgaria and reaching Preslav, the Magyars
returned to their lands, but not before Simeon had concluded an armistice with
Byzantium towards the end of the summer of 895 (Wikipedia, 2009, ‘Simeon’;
Tougher 1997: 176).

2. Italy: As noted, the Byzantines were forced out of Benevento by Guy of Spoleto;
and once again Bari becomes the administrative capital of Byzantine Italy or
“Longobardia” as it will become known (Kreutz p.66).
The empire now controls southern Italy below the line – almost north-south –
from the Gulf of Manfredonia in N Apulia to the Gulf of Policastro*, i.e. to the top
of Calabria. The region above this line was under ‘Lombard’ (Latin-Italian) control:
the duchies of Salerno, Benevento and Capua; and the independent Italo-Greek or
‘post-Byzantine’ port-towns of Naples and Gaeta. (Naples had asserted its
independence from the Byzantine empire in the early 800s, and now Gaeta was
easing itself out from under Neapolitan control.) Cf 899.

(*) Today a tongue of land belonging to the modern province of Basilicata

reaches west to the Gulf of Policastro, separating Campania from today’s

1. Thrace: The emperor replaces Nicephoros Phokas as domestic of the Scholae
with the less experienced Leo Catacalon. – In Thrace: Symeon defeats a major
East Roman army under Catacalon at Bulgarophygon: modern Babeski, south-east
of medieval Adrianople. Thus Bulgaria had won the war. Cf 897: Serbian-New-
Roman alliance.
Treaty between Bulgaria and Byzantium: the empire ceded a little territory in
Thrace but obtained a peace which endured until the death of Leo IV in 912. The
themes of Strymon and Nicopolis, first mentioned in 899-900, presumably
date from this time. Strymon - east of the river Struma: Serres and the coastal
plain of Thrace - was detached from the theme of Macedonia, which was renamed
the theme of Thessalonica. Nicopolis, comprising most of Epirus, was
separated from Cephalonia.
According to the Arab writer Ibn Rusta, at this time the emperor was
accompanied by ‘large numbers of Khazars and Turks’. This may have referred to
an ordinary regiment of mercenaries or, perhaps more likely, an element of the
emperor’s bodyguard. Khazars and Turks are first attested in the Hetaeria
(imperial bodyguards) in 855 (Treadgold, Army p.110).

Browning p.81: “Bulgaria in the 9th and 10th century was not a land of horsemen.
The Bulgarian army was mainly an infantry force, while the Byzantine army
depended upon a core of cavalry partly maintained by land grants”. – This
statement, although essentially correct, is simplistic, ignoring the fact that the
Bulgarian elite units were cavalry and that Byzantine field armies nearly always
contained more infantry than cavalry. Moreover cavalry was less effective in hilly
Bulgaria than infantry.

2. Hellas: A Saracen fleet attacks Aegina, the Aegean island east of Corinth, and
the Muslims conduct raids into Greece. The inhabitants of Aegina fled to the

mainland following a raid, known to us from the Life of Luke the Younger, which
carried on into Greece. His parents were among those who fled (Fossier p.376).

3. An exchange of prisoners between the Eastern Muslim and the East Roman
Empire: various figures are given, the highest being Mas’udi’s “3,000” people
recovered by the Caliphate (Toynbee 1973: 391).

From 896: Rome: So-called papal “pornocracy”, i.e., alleged rule by papal
mistresses (896-962): decline of papal authority in the West & political
fragmentation of Italy. The ‘pornocracy’ is probably an exaggerated
concept. But certainly appointments to the papacy were decided by
competition among the rival aristocratic factions in Rome.

1. Death of the Basileus’s first wife, Theophano. Leo marries (no.2) his long-time
mistress Zoe Zautzina, aged 34. Zoe was daughter of Leo’s chief counsellor,
Stylianos Zautzes or Tzautzes, the ‘Master of the Offices and Logothete of the
Course’; and Himerius’s niece; her grandfather Tzautzes had been strategos of
Macedonia. See 899.

2. Serbia allies with Byzantium (until 917).

The East: Arab land incursion into Cappadocia, and Muslim naval victory over the
Cibyrrhaeot theme. The eunuch admiral Raghib, “the mawlã [lit. ‘protector’, i.e.
governor] of al-Muwaffaq” [brother and regent of the caliph], took 3,000
Byzantine sailors as prisoners and beheaded them. —Thus Tabari, s.a 285; also
Wikipedia, 2009, under ‘Byzantine navy’, and Tougher (1997), The Reign of Leo VI
(886–912): Politics and People, Brill, pp. 185–186.

1. East Aegean: First mention of a new naval theme, that of Samos, created
about 882 (Treadgold, Army p.76): head-quartered on the island of Samos off
Ephesus = continued revival of the Romaniyan (‘Greek’) navy. Some say Smyrna
was the capital. Cf 911.

2. Death at age 25 of the emperor’s 2nd wife, Zoe Zautzina or Zaoutzaina. See
900. (Zoe was also the name of his 4th wife, marr. 906: Zoe Carbonopsina.)
Zautzina had given him two daughters but no son.

3. The Magyars raid into N Italy and defeat the Italians under Berengar at the river
Brenta (which passes Padua and enters the Adriatic south of Venice). Cf 906.

4. S Italy: Capua asserts control over Benevento. But the Lombard-Italian prince of
Capua-Benevento and his neighbour the duke of Salerno continued to be
respectful to Constantinople as their nominal overlord. Cf 901.

The Themes in 899

The Kletorologion of Philotheus, firmly dated to 899, lists 10 themes in Asia Minor,
including the naval or marine theme of the Kibyrrhaeots. The main ones were 1:
the Anatolikon, 2: Armeniakon, 3: Thrakesion, 4: Opsikion, and 5: Bukellarion.
These had been subdivided in the ninth century to form the themes of 6:
Kappadokia (AD 830), 7: Paphlagonia (847), 8: Chaldia (863) and 9: Charsianon
(873). Next to be formed were 10: Mesopotamia (901), and 11: Sebasteia (911).

More exactly, from west to east, the full list of provinces or Themes of the empire
was this:

THE WEST: 1.‘ Sicily’ so-called, HQ at Rhegium or Reggio on the point of the toe: it
comprised some pockets in NE Sicily and all of Calabria: see entry for 901. 2.

Cephalonia, HQ at Panormus, today’s Fiskardo, on the island of Cephalonia: at this

time the theme may also have covered the future theme of Longobardia* (Apulia:
the calf and heel of Italy: modern Puglia) which made up its larger part [map in
Treadgold 1995: 208]. 3. Dalmatia, HQ at Jadera or Zara [modern Zadar]: just the
fringes of what is now coastal Croatia. Officially Dalmatia was a theme but in
practice just a collection of independent vassal port-towns and islands, namely,
from NW to SE: Osero, Veglia/Bekla, Arba/Arbe, Zara, Trau, Spalato/Aspalaton and

(*) The Byzantine theme of Longobardia, capital at Bari, is first mentioned

in 911, but may date from as early as 891. In the period 968-70 (see there)
it will be placed with the rest of Byzantine Italy under an overall
commander called the Catapan (Kat’epanos).

BALKANS: 4. Theme of Dyrrhachium, HQ at Dyrrhachium or Durres: the coastal

plain of modern Albania. 5. Nicopolis, at Nicopolis: = Epirus, ie modern west-
central Greece. 6. (eastern) Peloponnesus (Corinth). 7. Hellas (?Thebes --**). 8.
Thessalonica (Thessalonica). 9. Strymon, HQ at Caesaropolis: NE of Thessalonica.
10. ‘Macedonia’ so-called (Adrianople in outer Thrace). 11. Thrace (Arcadiopolis in
inner Thrace).

(--) Maritime themes, i.e. those with warships or providing marines.

(**) Leo, d. 848, strategos of Hellas was buried at Athens on the Acropolis;
this may be evidence that Athens became the seat of the Theme. Cf M
Kazanaki-Lappa, ‘Medieval Athens’, in Laiou ed 2002: 641.

Above: Asia Minor. This map is generally but not fully correct. In the
west the Thracesion theme extended to the coast, and Samos was a
maritime theme. In the SE, Cappadocia was actually larger, adjoining
Cilicia, with Charsianon smaller than shown here. The unnamed theme
east of Paphlagonia is the Armeniac. There are several misspellings:
‘Opsikon’ should be Opsikion, and ‘Selelicia’ should be Seleucia.

ASIA: 12. -- Aegean Sea i.e. the north Aegean, HQ probably at Mytilene on Lesbos.
13. -- Samos, at Samos: the south Aegean including Rhodes. Crete was under
Muslim rule. 14. -- Cibyrrhaeot (HQ at Attalia): the south Asia Minor coast and sea.
15. Thracesian (Chonae). 16. Opsician (Nicaea). 17. Optimates (Nicomedia). 18.

Bucellarion (Ancyra). 19. Anatolic (Polybotus – a town south of Amorium). 20.

Paphlagonia (Gangra). 21. Armeniac (Amasia): no longer a border theme. 22.
Charsianum (Charsianum). 23. Cappadocia (Corum): bordering the caliphate at
the Gates of Cilicia: see under AD 908 below. 24. Seleucia (Seleucis): western
Cilicia including a stretch of the coast. Eastern Cilicia and Cyprus were under
Muslim rule: cf AD 900 below. 25. Colonia (Colonia): inland from Trebizond; and
26. Chaldia (Trebizond).

Underlined = border provinces with the Caliphate.

For comparison, the Notitia Episcopatuum (official listing of bishops) quantifies the
number of sees under the first patriarchate of Nicholas I Mystikos, 901–907,
namely 442 bishops, archbishops and metropolitans in Asia Minor (70%); 22 in
Rhodes and the Aegean (3%); 139 in the Balkans (22%); and 34 in southern Italy
and in Sicily (5%).

Maritime Forces
Oarsmen and marines: after Treadgold, Army p.67. The numbers of ships are my
guesstimates, M.O’R.

Oarsmen Marines

Imperial Fleet (central): 19,600 4,000

200+ ships

(north) Aegean Sea: 2,610 400

about 20 ships

Hellas: about 20 ships 2,300 400?*

Samos: about 35 ships 3,980 600

Cibyrrhaeot: up to 50 5,710 1,000


Total ships: over 300.

(*) Hellas had 2,000 troops: presumably only about 400 were marines, the others
being land soldiers.

1. Asia: The emperor Leo sent an army into the Emirate of Tarsus which
overwhelmed its army and captured the emir (Treadgold 1997: 466).

2. Sicily: The Tunisian emir Abu Ishaq Ibrahim, 875-902, was eager to end the
resistance to his authority in the island. In 900 he sent his son Abúl Abbas Abdala
with a substantial fleet. Abúl Abbas quashed the revolt with enormous cruelty,
and after the fall (recovery) of Palermo in September of that year, thousands of
Muslims fled to the east coast looking for refuge among the Christians of
After subjugating Palermo, Abul advanced east in the autumn against the
Byzantine towns of Taormina and Catania. See 901.
Rodriquez: Seeking to take advantage of the circumstances, a patrikios was
sent to Reggio with a New-Roman army, and more troops were concentrated in
the town pending the arrival at Messina of a fleet from Constantinople. Meanwhile
Abúl Abbas did not remain inactive, and, after subjugating Palermo, he marched
against Taormina and Catania which he harassed without effect.

3. Italy: “Anno 900. descendit Melisianus Stratigo in Apulia” (Lupus): “Melisianos


[or Melissenus] arrives in Puglia [as] strategos”.

S Italy: By 900 Byzantium controlled most of the South. Only parts of the
Capua-Salerno plain and of the south-central Apennines remained ‘Lombard’
(Romance-speaking). In that year the count of Capua, Atenulf I, conquered
Benevento, and the Lombard-Byzantine border towns. Atenulf’s Principality of
Capua-Benevento thereafter ruled about one-third of the south.

3. Last ever ‘bride-show’ conducted, for Leo – for his third wife, he chooses a
Phrygian girl named Eudocia Baiana (see 901).

4. First mention of a theme of Strymon (between Thessalonica and Thrace). As

noted earlier, it lay east of the river Struma.

Revival of Abbasid rule: Baghdad reasserted its rule over Iran and Egypt. See 905.
Gutas remarks, p.168, that at this time the population of Egypt (between four
and five million) was still more than half non-Muslim, i.e. fewer Muslims than
Christians and Jews. - The same process can be traced in Islamic Spain using
Christian and Muslim personal names: there it took about 300 years for Muslims
to reach majority status and more than half a millennium for the religion of the
conqueror to wholly displace the religion of the conquered: Fletcher 1992: 36 ff.

Commanders in Italy, as listed in J J Hofmann’s Lexicon Universale (1698):

Melissenus seu Melisianus, Italiae Stratigus [“commander-general of Italy”], AD
900. Nicolaus Patricius, cognomine Picyglus [sic: “the patrikios Nicholas, known as
Picingli”], AD 915. Ursileo, AD 921-26.

1. Failures in the West; successes in the East: A Syrian fleet under the apostate
Christian Damian of Tarsus sacked Demetrias in Greece; while in Italy the Sicilian
Arabs sacked the thematic capital Rhegium (see below) and drove off a fleet sent
from Constantinople (Treadgold 1997: 466). In the East, however, successive
Byzantine expeditions expelled the Arabs from part of western Armenia, and
ravaged through Cilicia and Northern Syria.

Italy: Under Abu’l Abbas, son of the amir Abd-Allah II ibn Ibrahim, the Aghlabids of
Sicily briefly capture Rhegium/Reggio, at the tip of the toe of Italy, capital of the
Romanic-Byzantine theme of ‘Sicily’ so-called, the larger portion of which was
formed by the toe and instep of Italy (see 902). The Saracens drove off a fleet
sent from Constantinople. See next.
Sicily: Having prepared a new expedition during the winter, on 25 March 901
Abul Abbas sent a fleet to sea while he himself led his men to the siege of the
town of Demona in eastern Sicily which he bombarded for days with his ballistas.
Abúl Abbas received false news of great preparations that the Byzantines were
supposedly making in Reggio. He decided to raise the siege of Demona and to go
to Messina whence he embarked (June 901) in the presumed direction of the
marshalling area of the enemy.
After brief resistance, Reggio fell on 10 July 901 and in the town the victors
gave themselves over to a real massacre (Bury 1911: 141). After taking “15,000”
captives – many refugees as well as local Reggians - and an enormous booty, Abúl
Abbas received the submission of the neighbouring populations who paid tribute
not to undergo the same fate as Reggio.
On the return journey to Messina, the Arabs found time to face (early in 902)
the New-Roman fleet and to sink 30 of its vessels ( - thus Rodriguez). See entry
below for 902. The Arab writer Ibn al-Athir says that a Byzantine relief fleet under
Eustathios Argyrus, the strategos of Calabria, was defeated and lost 30 ships off
Messina in 902. Pryor & Jeffreys p.385 list this as one of the more disastrous
defeats suffered by the imperial navy.
Next, having taken Mico*, Aci** and, further north, the last Greek outpost,
Taormina (August 902), ’Abd-Allah’s father, the ex-emir Ibrahim, crossed into
Calabria. But there he died while besieging Cosenza (23 October 902), whereupon

his army melted away (Ahmad pp.17, 21). See more below under 902.

(*) Not located.

(**) Today there are five towns in Catania province having ‘Aci’ as part of
their name, including Aci Castello on the coast N of Catania, SE of Mt Etna.

“Anno 901. [sic: 902] descendit Abraham Rex Sarracenorum in Calabriam, et ivit
Cosentiam Civitatem, et percussus est ictu fulguris”. - ‘Ibrahim king [sic: in fact
his son was the emir] of the Saracens comes into Calabria and he marches to the
town of Cosenza and is struck down [on 23 October 902] by a lightning bolt’ (sic:
he died from an infectious disease, probably dysentry).* – Lupus Prot..

(*) Lupus would be referring to the meteor shower known as the ‘Leonids’. See
the discussion in Mark Littmann, The Heavens on Fire: The Great Leonid Meteor
Storms, Cambridge University Press, 1999. He gives the date as 14 October Julian
calendar or 30 October Gregorian.

2. Creation of the theme of Mesopotamia: in Armenia, straddling the far upper

Euphrates, i.e. between the rivers Arsanias (mod. Murat) and Çimisgezek. Manuel,
the Armenian lord of Takis, ceded his lands to the empire in return for safer
estates elsewhere. Thus the imperial border was extended eastwards for the
first time since the 7th century (Treadgold 1995; and 1997: 466). Cf 908.

It seems fantastic, albeit very interesting, that Leo VI apparently believed that the
Byzantines were so many times more numerous than the Arabs that the
Christians would be sure of being the victors if only they would supply their troops
with equipment of the Muslims’ standard (Taktika, cited in Toynbee p. 78). The
only way to explain this is to suppose he was comparing prosperous Asia Minor
with the less prosperous and much-ravaged border regions of the Caliphate, i.e.
Cilicia, North Syria and Upper Mesopotamia. And perhaps the higher quality
armaments of the fully-professional Arab armies stood out against those of
Byzantium’s semi-professional thematic troops.

3. Death of the emperor’s third wife, Eudocia Baeana. See 906.

901: Magyars enter N. Italy and raid as far as Pavia, which they sack. Cf

1. End of Byzantine dominion in Sicily. As we have noted, Taormina, the fortress-
town on the east coast near Mt Etna, the last Byzantine strongpoint in Sicily,
falls to the Saracens. Destroyed in AD 902 by the Arabs, Taormina was rebuilt
by the Christians of Val Demone*, a valley or region in northern Sicily, before
being taken again in 962 by the Arabs under the al-Mu’izz clan, who renamed the
town Mu’izziyah.
Mt Etna, coastal Taormina and Catania form a triangle in East Sicily, with Mt
Etna as the inland point.

This was followed by an Aghlabite offensive into Byzantine Calabria.

(From Rodriquez:) Abu Ishaq Ibrahim II, the ninth Emir of the Aghlabids in
Ifriqiya, ruled 875-902, handed formal authority to his son. Then the ex-emir
crossed the Straits with an army and advanced, devastating everything before
them, until they reached the valley of the Crati, the river that runs N through
Cosenza in northern Calabria. Their advance was so fast that there was no time to
send Byzantine reinforcements from Constantinople.
Despising the emissaries of the towns that rushed to submit to him, Ibrahim
arrived before Cosenza at the end of September 902. The inhabitants of the town,

after trying in vain to negotiate with their attackers, prepared themselves for a
long siege that began with an assault on 1 October which they were able to
repulse. But the sudden death of Ibrahim on the 23 of that same month from
dysentery or the plague ended the blockade. The demoralized Arab army lifted
the siege, and Ibrahim’s successor, his grandson, was content to withdraw, which
brought relief for the tormented populations of the region.
Kreutz p.76 says that the “huge” expedition under Ibrahim was not just a raid
but a jihad. But, as noted, Ibrahim died suddenly in October 902 while besieging
Consenza in Calabria; his army faded away (see further details below). Meanwhile
imperial rule continued uninterrupted in the heel and calf of Italy, which was
originally administered from Cephalonia; the heel was now (or earlier) named the
theme of Longobardia and separated from Cephalonia. It is first mentioned by
its new name in 910/11.

(*) The island was divided by the Saracens into three departments or valli;
Val Demone in the north-east; Val Mazara in the west; and Val di Noto in
the south-east, a division that was maintained later by the Normans.

2. The slave trade: Edicts prohibiting the Venetian slave traffic were issued four
times by the emperor and/or doge: in 876, 902, 945 and 960. As Rotman pp.79-80
notes, this policy failed until the mid-10th century. Such prohibitions, and the use
of customs houses, were partly an anti-Arab policy. More importantly, given that
Venetian traders sold slaves directly to Muslim Africa and the East, the Christian
authorities were seeking to reduce or eliminate the competition in the slave traffic
destined for Byzantium’s own markets (largely for on-selling to the Muslim East),
and to stop the slave trade in abducted Byzantines (for the Venetians would
sometimes sell captive Greeks as well as Slavs and others).

3. fl. Arethas of Caesarea, theologian, scholar and bibliophile. Although holding

the archbishopric of Caesarea in Anatolia, Arethas resided mainly in the capital.
His chief claim to fame today lies in the care he took in seeking out MANUSCRIPTS
OF RARE CLASSICAL WORKS, have them copied in the new minuscule hand, and supply
them with marginal comments.

The oldest surviving text of Homer’s Iliad is the one commissioned by Arethas.

He had in his library the full works of the classical Greek poets Pindar and
Callimachus that have survived today only in part.
Rautman p.288 notes that an illustrated second-hand Gospel book might easily
cost as much as a horse or mule. At a time when day labourers earned six to 10
nomismata a year, new books ran to 15 to 30: two-thirds for the scribing and one-
third for the materials. This was half the annual salary of a middle-level civil
One MS of Plato commissioned by Arethas in 895 cost 21 nomismata (13 for
transcription and eight for the parchment), the equivalent of two years’ wages of
a labourer (Mango 1980: 238; Browning 1992: 130).

Literacy Restored in Byzantium

The commonplace view is that the level of literacy was lower in the medieval
Empire than in the ancient Empire, albeit significantly higher than in the medieval
This question was revisited in 1990 by Margaret Mullet: ‘Writing in early
Medieval Byzantium’, in R McKitterick, ed., The Uses of Literacy in Early Medieval
Europe (Cambridge 1990). As she correctly notes, much depends on which
century one looks at, because Byzantium had its own Dark Age. The 7th and 8th
centuries were “a watershed or period of reduced literacy” in which reading and
writing were at a low ebb, if not almost lost (p.161). She notes, for example, that

around AD 725 a group of scholars were not familiar with as important a text as
Procopius’s Histories. (Procopius was still available in the libraries: but they had
not read him.)
On the other hand, by about 900 there is plenty of evidence of relatively
widespread literacy. It is enough to record that, besides the expected upper-class
letters and literary works, Byzantine charters have survived “with rich arrays of
peasant signatures” (p.162). In the West, of course, the number of literate
peasants was approximately zero. (In 8th century Italy, among lay subscribers to
charters, i.e. nobles and others members of the secular upper classes, only 14%
could sign their names, which is no great feat in itself; thus the truly literate must
have been under five per cent: Ward-Perkins 2006: 166, citing the work of
Petrucci. And of course even the western emperor Charlemagne, born AD 742,
was notoriously illiterate.)

No quantitative estimate of readers and writers in the East Roman Empire is

possible, but we can make a subjective comparison with the ancient Empire and
with the Latin West in later centuries. The percentage of people who do (not)
know their true age correlates moderately well with (il)literacy rates. The figures
below, collated by Clark 2007: 178, show the percentage who did know their true
age and thus were literate.

62-48%: rich men in antique Roman Africa and Rome, 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. -
Byzantium in AD 1000 probably did not exceed this.

39%: rich men in England, ca 1350. Presumably lower than in Byzantium in AD


68%-47%: Renaissance Florence: males, rural and urban, all classes, AD 1427.
The city of Florence = 68%; all Florentine territory = 47%. -
Presumably higher than Byzantium in AD 1000.

Looking at this data, one might hazard the guess that in the Empire in AD 900-
1000 about half the rich would be at least functionally literate, and
perhaps an eighth of the non-rich - males in both cases. (NB: This does not
imply that they all read Homer.)

Mediterranean and Aegean: The Saracens (Aghlabids) already held Malta and
Syracuse, and in August 902, as we have seen, they captured Taormina, the last
Romanian (‘Greek’) foothold on Sicily, effectively ending Byzantine rule on that
The Aegean islands and coastal towns too were vulnerable to intermittent Arab
raids, in their case from Crete; and in 902 (or 901), despite stiff resistance, the
wealthy town of Demetrias on the coast of Thessaly was destroyed. In the spring
of 903, the NE Aegean island of Lemnos/Limnos fell, with many of its inhabitants
taken as prisoners by the Arabs (McCormick 2001: 965).

The West: The Muslim Umayyads of Spain [the Caliphate or anti-caliphate

of Cordoba] conquer the Frankish protectorates of Majorca [Mallorca] and
the Balearics. (Christian rule did not return until 1299 when the Catalans
conquered the Balearics.)

Caliph al-Muktafi.

Italy: Although more usually fighting among themselves, Capua, Naples and
Amalfi combined for a joint attack on the “pirate” Arab encampment (raiding
colony) - based there since 881 - on the Garigliano River south of Gaeta. The
Gaetans, the Arabs’ sponsors, came to their aid, and together they repelled the

allied Christian attack (Kreutz pp.76-77; Skinner 2003: 50). See 914-15.

‘Wool, silk, precious stones, silver and gold’: Thessalonica in 903

Memoir of the priest John Kaminiates: “There was a main public road [the Via
Egnatia] that ran from west to east through the middle of the city; and it induced
those who passed through the neighborhood to stop and procure whatever they
needed. We were able to obtain many beautiful things from those people
(costoro: these people, them, they). So great was the number of [our] people and
foreigners [forestieri, i.e. local Slavs and possibly Bulgarians] in that place that
they so crowded the roads to make it easier to count the grains of sand beside
the sea than the people who covered the public square of the market where
transactions were concluded. As a result, many accumulated gold treasure in
great amounts, silver and precious stones, and woven goods in silk (seta) and
wool” (my translation of the Italian text in Vanni 2007: 12). —See next: 904.2.
If (see next: 904) the population was 100,000 then a market district crowded
with 10,000 people is credible.

1. The East: Andronikos Doukas and Eustathios Argyros campaign against the
Arabs. After a major victory over the combined forces of Mopsuestia and Tarsos,
they lay siege to the town of Marash (Germanicea) (Polemis p.17). Others prefer
AD 905: see there.

2. The East: A substantial Arab fleet - 54 large galleys – under Abu l-Hadith Lawun
or Leo ‘of (Syrian) Tripoli’, a renegade New-Roman (Greek) born in Greece or
Attaleia in Asia Minor*, sails from Syria to attack Attaleia (Antalya). Rotman p.47
calls it an “Egyptian” force, adding that the Arabs of Crete were not involved. The
port city was taken by force and “60” Byzantine ships or vessels were captured
(Kennedy 2008: 337; McCormick 2001: 966).
Then, sailing from Crete, Leo proceeds up the eastern Aegean as if headed for
Constantinople. The Arab fleet sacks Abydos. But when confronted by the imperial
fleet under the droungarios tou ploimou or admiral in chief, Eustathios Argyros, it
withdraws and diverts to, and sacks Thessalonica, the empire’s second city
(Toynbee 1973: 335).
Treadgold, State p.572, argues that, because “15,000” (others say 5,000) were
killed and “30,000” survivors were enslaved, the city’s population had been up to
One of the first visitors to the city after the withdrawal of the Arab fleet was
the Calabrian monk St Elias ‘the Younger’ who died there a week after they
departed. His Vita records the situation of the city as sheer misery. —Curta 2006:

(*) Leo, who took the Arab names Gulam Zurafa, Abu l-Hadith Lawun
(lawun = Leon) and Rashiq al Wardami, was an admiral and master of the
port of Tripoli in Syria. Theophanes Continuatus and Cedrenus give his
birthplace as Attalia. The traveller and future historian al-Masudi met him
some time after 904 (Shboul 1979).

(**) Johanek (in NCMH p.72) gives its urban area as 3.5 sq km, which is less
than one-seventh that of Constantinople. If Constantinople had 275,00
people (Johanek’s guesstimate), then one would expect T. to have had
under 40,000 people.

A Greek eye-witness account survives, by the priest John Cameniates, Kaminiates

or Kameniata, in his Capture of Thessalonica. The event is also reported by the
Muslim writer al-Mas’udi, who quotes Muslims who took part in the expedition. As
noted, he met Leo/Lawun.
In the summer of 904, the Saracens entered the Dardanelles to approach
Constantinople, the ‘beating heart’ of the Byzantine empire. Along the way, Leo of
Tripoli sacked the island of Abydos, a well-fortified customs post of the Byzantine

capital. The anxiety of the inhabitants of Constantinople was assuaged only when
the Arab ships turned aside before the massed Byzantine fleet without giving
battle. Instead, they sailed (rowed) back into the Aegean and laid siege to
Thessaloniki, a city well-situated on the Via Egnatia and endowed with a large
“The citizens, in fact, were anything but remiss in their use of archery, and
used it to great and conspicuous effect by stationing all the Sklavenes [Slav
tribes] gathered from the neighbouring regions at those points from which it was
easiest to shoot accurately and where there was nothing to deflect the
momentum of their missiles” (Cameniates).
As related by Cameniates, Leo’s Arabs used a now famous tactic of lashing
together the long lateen (sail) yards and quarter-rudders of paired ships to form
mobile siege towers (Hocker in Gardiner 2004: 92). “Some [of the Saracens] used
bows and arrows, others the handmade thunder of stones. Others applied
themselves to stone-throwing engines and sent giant hailstones of rock hurtling
through the air.”
Greek Fire was deployed, but unsuccessfully by the Thessalonicans: shot from
bronze siphons using, probably, compressed air. The Byzantines deployed ships
with men stationed on bridges running from the mastheads whence they used
hand-held siphons (Partington p.16, and Pryor & Jeffreys p.612, citing Kameniata).
The Arabs (Gk Sarakinoi) took Thessaloniki on 30 July 904. They abandoned the
town three days later with ‘22,000’, or 30,000*, prisoners who they transferred to
Tarsos in Kilikia/Cilicia (where there was a major slave market) (22,000 is given by
NCMH 2000: 556). But finally the captives were returned following diplomatic
agreement. See 905 – sack of Tarsos.

(*) Leo also captured 60 Romanian (‘Greek’) ships, but even adding them, we
have a figure of 193 prisoners per ship taken away (i.e. 22,000 / 114) which is at
the limit of credibility. (Galleys were very small by our standards.)

3. New-Roman (Greek) retreat in the NW Balkans: The Bulgarians push west to the
coast of present-day lower Albania, and re-establish their dominion as far as the
Adriatic, not including Dyrrhachium (see Stephenson 2000). Byzantium struck a
treaty recognising Bulgaria’s possession of the greater part of Thrace and outer
Symeon was able to use the recent Arab sack of Thessalonica to his advantage:
in return for agreeing not to seize the city, he received the greater part of
Macedonia, including most of the Vardar river. He already held the northern
sector of the valley; this treaty now gave him most of the south.
Dyrrhachium remained in imperial hands, and Serbia still acknowledged
On the Aegean side, an inscription in Greek was placed at Nea Philadelphia,
just 22 km north of Thessalonica, to mark the Bulgarian-Romanic frontier
(Toynbee p. 92; Browning p.129; Fine p. 140).

4. Baghdad: fl. the vizier al-Qasim, minister to several Abbasid caliphs. It was he
who had commissioned Hunayn’s [d. 876] Arabic translation of Aristotle’s Physics,
“the best and final translation, (and) the one extant today” (Gutas p.131).

The Maghreb: The Fatimids, a sect of “Isma’ilite” Shi’ites, begin their

conquest of Algeria and thence eastward to Tunisia by 907. Their army
was made up mainly of Berbers. See 909.

Imperial Roads and Public (State) Carriages

“In Asia Minor”, writes Avramea, “the public [government-maintained] road

must have run [diagonally] through Nicaea, Malagina, Dorylaion, Caesarea, and
Melitene or have headed south into Syria through the Cilician Gates. This would
have been the road taken by the koubikoularios [imperial chamberlain] Samonas,
who at his own expense and using his own horses—judging “the public horses at

each change” to be useless—fled to the Arabian border in 904”. —Anna Avramea,

in Laiou ed., 2002, citing Hendy, Studies, 609.
Apart from the public horses, the state also provided demousia ochemata or
public carriages. In the reign of Theophilos, 829–842, Manuel, stratelates* or
commanding-general of the East, “covertly leaving the city as far as the Gates
and riding in public carriages, escaped as far as the defiles of Syria” (ibid., quoting
Georgius Monachus, 796.) If carts could be taken so far, it suggests that at least
the major highways of Antiquity were still being maintained.

(*) Rendered as “supreme commander” by Talbot & Sullivan (Leo Diac.,

trans. 2005: 37).

N Aegean: Saracen pirates (slavers) originating in Crete hold Thasos or Thassos,
the northernmost island in the Aegean, a scant few kilometres from the Thracian
coast. Cf 905.

1a. The Aegean: Himerius, ‘drungary (drungarios) of the fleet’, i.e. admiral of the
central fleet, won a major victory over the Arabs in the Aegean in October of 905
(Browning 1992: 101). – This is listed by Pryor & Jeffreys (p.385) as one of the
most notable naval victories achieved by the empire. But cf 911.

1b. Cilicia: In revenge for the sack of Thessalonica, Byzantine forces sack Tarsus.
The port city was reduced to ashes. The claim (by Arethas) that the domestikos
tõn scholõn, Andronikos Doux, had “18,000” Arabs put to death is plainly
exaggerated (Polemis p.17; also Norwich 1993: 110).

2. (or 904:) Re-creation of the Caliphate: The Abbasids of Baghdad retake Syria,
Palestine and Egypt from the Tulunids. The second-last Tulunid ruler died in 904
during the Abbasid invasion; the last in 905.
The Abbasids now controlled the central Muslim domains from Egypt to S
Persia. Crete was an independent emirate. The Fatimids ruled N Africa from Libya
westwards. The Saminids governed in NW Persia and cental Asia (Transoxiana).

3. b. Constantine “Porphyrogenitus”, future emperor, Leo’s son by his mistress

Zoe ‘Carbonopsina’ (“coal-black eyes”). Zoe Karbonopsina was a relative of the
chronicler Theophanes the Confessor and of the admiral Himerios. Cf 906 –

905 and 908:

Negotiations for an exchange of prisoners took place between the Eastern
Muslims (Abbasids) and the East Roman Empire: the discussions were broken off
in 905 but the Byzantine diplomat Leo Khoirosphaktes stayed in Baghdad and
persevered. In 905 the Muslims recovered over 1,100 people before the
negotiations broke down. Then in 908 they regained up to 3,000 people according
to Tabari and ‘Arib (Toynbee 1973: 391). No figures are given for the Christian
side, but we may assume that they were one-for-one.

1. The emperor marries for the 4th time, to Zoe ‘Carbonopsina’ (C. = ”coal-dark
eyes”), and proclaims her empress. This provoked a crisis with the church, which
refused to allow a third marriage. See 906-7: revolt; 913, and 914.

2. Bulgaria: Constantine, bishop of Preslav, translator of St Anastasius: creation of

a sophisticated vocabulary in Slavic (‘Bulgarian’).

European Alps, Kingdom of Provence: By 906, the Andalusi (Spanish Arab)


adventurers or bandits of Fraxinet had seized the mountain passes of the

Dauphiné west of the main Alps, crossed Mont Cénis on the present-day
French-Italian border, and occupied the valley of the Suse on the
Piedmontese or modern Italian frontier. The Arabs erected stone fortresses
in areas they conquered – in the Dauphiné, Savoy and Piedmont – often
naming them Fraxinet, after their base. The name survives to this day in
these areas, in various forms like Fraissinet or Frainet (Lebling, Pirates of
St Tropez:,
accessed 2010). Cf 911.

3. The Magyars, the future ‘Hungarians’, conquer Slavic Moravia, the present-day
Slovak-Czech region. Cf 943.

From 906:
The imperial fleet is built up for a future expedition to Crete - see 911.

Revolt by the army commander Andronikos Dukas, instigated by patriarch
Nicholas Mysticus. Cf 913.

By 907: Transdanubia: The Magyars have displaced the (Slavic) Moravians

as the ruling power on the Hungarian plain. See 934.
In 907 AD, the Magyars inflicted two heavy defeats on the Bavarians,
destroying their army at Bratislava and laying Germany open to Magyar

1. The Black Sea: The Russian Primary Chronicle says that the pagan Varangian
Rus’ or ‘Russians’(*) launched an “enormous” land and sea expedition to
Constantinople – Runciman’s word: 1963, pp.110-111. Davidson 1976: 89 ff and
others, however, think that even its occurrence is not necessarily credible: the
Greek sources do not mention it, so the episode may be fictional.

(*) The westward move of the Magyars into present-day Hungary allowed
the ‘Viking Russians’ (Kievan Rus’) briefly to grab a part of the Black Sea
coast in what is now Ukraine. (The Patzinaks forced them out a little later.)

If we may believe the Russian Chronicle, the pagan Varangians and their subject
Slavs threatened the capital. Prince Helgi or Oleg - Norse Helgi, Slavic Oleg - leads
a large fleet of “2,000” vessels [200 would be more plausible], carrying his
infantry forces, towards Constantinople. We know from Constantine
Porphyrogenetus that in the 10th century a large boat (sagena) of the Southern
(Balkan) Croats contained about 40 men; this is also the figure stated in the
Russian Primary Chronicle. Using this figure, and assuming the true number was
200 vessels, we have 8,000 men involved.
The ships, or rather boats (sailing-canoes), were dragged overland on portable
wheels and re-embarked on the Golden Horn. There was some fierce fighting with
the Byzantines before peace was agreed.

According to the Russian Primary Chronicle, but this is not corroborated in the
Byzantine sources, Oleg demanded silk (!) sails for his ships and linen ones for his
Slav allies, and hung his shield over the city gate in a sign of victory. A trade
treaty was then signed with the “Russians”, who were allowed to import goods
into the empire duty-free. They sold slaves, furs, honey and wax to Romaniyan
(‘Greek’) buyers. Cf 911.

3. Constantine ‘Lips’**, a high-ranking member of the New-Roman (Greek) court,

inaugurated a church dedicated to the Virgin in the presence of the emperor Leo
An inlaid marble plaque representing a female saint was part of the building’s
revetted decoration. The most likely candidate for the represented figure is the

third wife of Leo VI, Eudokia Baiane, the “outstandingly beautiful girl from the
Opsikion theme,” who, like the emperor’s other wives, was immortalised by
unofficial sainthood and by imperially sanctioned art. - Sharon E. Gerstel, ‘Saint
Eudokia and the imperial household of Leo VI’, The Art Bulletin, Dec, 1997.

(**) Lips, meaning ‘southwest wind’, was a nick-name (ODB ii: 1232).
“Constantine of Lips [was] first spatharius and domestikos of the scholai, the
present anthypatos patrikios and great hetaeriarch [commander of the
bodyguard]”, according to Constantine Porphyrogenitus (G, 184, 370).
The Imperial guard, the Basilike Hetaireia, numbered about 1,200 men in the
later 900s. Some were recruited from among ‘Greeks’, e.g. from western Thrace
[the so-called theme of ‘Macedonia’]; and some from among foreigners such as
Khazars (Toynbee p.285; Treadgold, Army p. 197).

3. Possible date of Leo’s military manual, the Taktika. - Book XIX is devoted to
naval tactics, training and equipment.

Eastern Asia Minor in the Anti-Taurus mountains: A number of mini-themes or
military border districts called ‘cleisurae’ [kleisourai] - literally, fortifications in the
form of mountain “passes” or “defiles” - were created in the Cappadocia-
Mesopotamia sector. They were: Lycandus in far eastern Cappadocia;
Symposium, later called Taranta*, east of Lycandus; and Abara* or Amara, east
of Symposium, each with probably 800 soldiers (Treadgold, Army p.77). In effect
they loked down from the mountains upon the great valley of the Euphrates
around Malatya. There the emirate of Malatya resisted the Byzantines until 934:
see under 916, 926 and 927.

(*) Taranta was the name of a fortress situated by the Tohma-su River, 4
km northwest of the modern town of Darende (80 km northwest of
Malatya/Melitene) (Nesbitt et al. 2001: 161). The town of Abara lay SW of
Tephrice [mod. Divrigi]; the cleisura was an excision from the theme of
Sebastea (Sivas).

Baghdad: the boy-caliph al-Muqtadir, aged 13 in 908. His 25 years reign saw 13
Viziers, one rising on the fall, or on the assassination, of another.
The long reign of this Caliph will bring the Abbasid Empire to its lowest ebb.
Africa was lost*, and Egypt nearly [see 914-15]. Even Mosul will throw off its
dependence, and the Byzantines will make raids almost at pleasure on the
helpless border. Cf 910.
The total annual revenues of the Muslim Khalifate had been probably 300
million dirhams [silver coins of 2.97 gms] around AD 850, down from nearly 400
million around 750. With the break-up of the Islamic Empire, the revenues would
fall to about 210 million dirhams in 919 (Fossier p.225).

(*) More specifically: Morocco had fallen to the Idrisids already by 800; and
the Aghlabids in Greater Tunisia (Algeria to Libya) continued formally to
recognise Baghdad but in practice ruled independently after 812. The
later were ousted by the Fatimids (see 909-10).

Armenia: The Muslim general Yusuf, the independent-minded amir of Azerbaijan,
promotes Gagik, the prince of Vaspurakan, the small state east of Lake Van, as an
anti-king against Sembat. Cf 909-13.

England, 909: The troops of Wessex harry the Viking kingdom of York.

North Africa: Shi’ite Fatimids capture the Aghlabid capital of al-Qayrawan
(Kairuan) and take control in Tunisia and Sicily.
“Al-Mahdi” [Ubayd Allah al-Mahdi Billah a.k.a Said ibn Husayn], first Fatimid
ruler (909-34). Radical Isma’ili Shi’ism.* Al-Mahdi was proclaimed caliph in rivalry
to the Abbasids of Baghdad.
Tunisia: Triumphal entry to Kairuan by the Fatimids under ‘Ubaydullah: the city
of al-Mahdiyya [Mahdia] is founded (912) on the north-east coast of preswnt-day
Tunisia, as the new capital. Al-Mahdi took up residence in al-Mahdiyya in 920. Cf

(*) The metaphoricist Isma’ili group of Shi’ias focussed on the mystical nature of
the Imams and the mystical path to Allah, while the more literalistic Twelver
group focusing on divine law (sharia) and the deeds and sayings (sunnah) of
Muhammad and his successors.
North Africa returned to Sunni rule under the Zirids, from 1045.

Yusuf conquers Christian Armenia. For four years the terror continued, until in 913
the Armenian King Smbat, in the vain hope of saving his subjects' lives, finally
surrendered to Yusuf and was rewarded by a particularly hideous martyrdom
(thus Norwich, Apogee p.131). Cf 950, 1147.
See 913, 915.

Syria: Sailing (and/or rowing!) via Cyprus, a fleet of Byzantine galleys under
admiral Himerius sacks the Syrian (Abbasid) city of Lattakia (Gk: Laodicea), south
of Antioch, and plunders its hinterland. See 911. - Niketas probably accompanied
Himerios on the successful expedition of 910 which, as Jenkins, 1966: 210,
suggests, might have sailed first to Crete to secure the neutrality of the Cretan
Arabs before attacking Syria and sacking Laodikaia.

The central imperial fleet had some 19,600 rowers at this time; this would
translate (at 150 per ship) into a central force of some 130 galleys. Adding ships
from the several naval themes, the empire could easily form a fleet of over 200
ships. – Of the 197 major ships deployed against Crete in 911-12 (below), most
were drawn from the central Imperial fleet, with lesser numbers from the three
lesser naval themes: Hellas; Samos and the Aegean; and the Cibyrrhaeots [Asia

Preparations for the coming (911) invasion of Crete began in 910. Imperial
officials were dispatched to the themes to assist in collecting and transporting the
supplies. An imperial officer – described simply as ‘a certain basilikos’ – was sent
to the Anatolikon region in 910/911 to raise barley, ‘biscuit’ (hard tack), grain and
flour for the Kibyrrhaiot forces at Attaleia. – Haldon, Byzantium at War 1997; citing
De Cer., 659.7-12 Cf 911-12.

Capua under the rule of Benevento.

1. Heel of Italy: First mention of a theme of Longobardia; it had been created
perhaps as early as 887.
There were three segments of Byzantine Italy: (a) the Romance-speaking
Theme of Longobardia, which comprised the upper back-heel centred on Bari; (b)
the mainly Greek-speaking ‘Land of Otranto’: the heel proper including Taranto,
Brindisi and Otranto: evidently this segment was administered from Calabria; and
(c) Greek-speaking Calabria or the so-called ‘Theme of Sicily’. (Sicily itself was
under Muslim rule: map in Runciman 1963: 176).

2. (or 912:) Europe: Further trade treaty with Kievan Russia. Significantly, all the
Kievan signatories bore Scandinavian names. That is to say, they were still Vikings
and not yet Slavs. In later accounts - the first complete Russian chronicle dates
from 1116 - their names are Slavicised: Helgi becomes Oleg, Helga turns into
Olga; Ingwarr Igor and Waldemar appears as Vladimir.
The Rhos brought slaves and furs, exchanging them for money (gold coins) and
silk in Constantinople, which they knew as Miklagard, the “Great Town”*
(Davidson 1976: 99 ff).

(*) Miklagård, from Old Norse Miklagar: mikill + gardr = “big city” or
“grand city”.

The treaty mentions that some Rus/Russian ‘Vikings’ were already enrolled in the
Byzantine army (but not yet grouped in one unit). Cf 988.

Kingdom of Provence or Lower Burgundy*: In 911, the bishop of Narbonne,

who had been in Rome on urgent church business, was unable to return to
Francia because Muslim bandits controlled all the passes in the Alps. And
by about 933, “light columns, very mobile, held – at least during the
summer – all the country under a reign of terror, while the bulk of the
Muslim forces was entrenched in the mountainous canton of Fraxinetum, in
the immediate vicinity of the sea” [near St Tropez], writes Levi-Provençal.
See 931.

(*) A small Frankish kingdom, located between the Frankish kingdom of N

Italy and the Frankish kingdom of France. The Rhone runs through what
was then western Provence. Capital, after 911: Arles, on the lower Rhone
below Avignon. In 933 Lower and Upper Burgundy were combined into a
‘Kingdom of Arles’.

1. Italy: Last minting of coins at the mint of Reggio di Calabria (Morrisson in Laiou
ed., 2002).

2. The salaries of the military and civil commanders of the provinces—the

strategoi—are known to us from a catalogue of the year 911/912 in Constantine
Porphryogenitus’s De cer., 1: 696–97. The strategoi (generals) of Asia Minor,
Thrace, and Macedonia received 20–40 litrai per year, i.e. 1,440-2,880
nomismata; those of the maritime themes 10 litrai; and the so-called “guardians
of the passes”: the kleisourarchai - military commanders of smaller regions, who
did not hold the rank of strategos - received only five litrai [1 litrai or “pound” =
72 nomismata]. —Oikonomides, in Laiou ed., Economic History of Byzantium,

3. The Aegean: Admiral Himerius, departs from Phygela, the port near Ephesus on
the mainland opposite Samos, in about July 911, leading a major
Romanic/Byzantine expedition to re-conquer Crete. This venture fails after six
or eight months’ fighting (by about April 912). Among his commanders was
Romanus Lecapenus, strategus of the (naval) Samian theme and future emperor:
see 920.
When the fleet was about halfway home, off Chios, or as others say when it was
rounding Samos, it was intercepted and destroyed by an Arab fleet under Gulam
Zurafa, an apostate Greek known to the Byzantines as ‘Leo [Lawun] of (Syrian)
Tripoli’ (April or May 912: before 11 May) (Rotman p.220 note 98). Leo had served
as a seaman in the Kibyrrhaiotai theme; having been captured, he converted to
Islam (Dromon p.62).

The Expedition to Crete in 911

“Some estimate may be formed (writes Gibbon) of the power of the Greek
emperors, by the curious and minute detail of the armament which was prepared

for the reduction of Crete. A fleet of 112 galleys (“dromons”), and 75 vessels
[total 187] of the Pamphylian style, was equipped in the capital, the islands of the
Aegean Sea, and the seaports of Asia, Macedonia, and Greece. It carried 34,000
mariners [oarsmen], 7,340 soldiers, 700 Russians, and 5,087 Mardaites
[marines]*, whose fathers [i.e. ancestors] had been transplanted from the
mountains of Libanus [S Syria and Lebanon]” (Decline and Fall, citing Const.
Porphy. De Cerem.: Constantine VII's "Ceremony Book"). Total of non-oarsmen:
13,127 fighters. Cf below: Whittrow and Haldon say 17,000+.

(*) Mardaïtes (marda+ites): Descendants of Christian refugees from Syria;

first settled in the Aegean naval themes in the 680s.

Ships: 112 + 75 = 187 vessels, or an average of some 240 men per vessel
(rowers and troops). Or, if we spread the number of troops evenly, then the result
is 34 soldiers per vessel (or 90+ if there were 17,000+ troops).

Of the ‘197’ (or 187 or 180 or 119)* major ships in the Romaniyan expeditionary
fleet, most were drawn from the central or Imperial fleet, with lesser numbers
from the themes of Hellas; Samos/Aegean; and the Cibyrrhaeots of Asia Minor.

(*) Treadgold, State p.470 says 119 ships; Constantine says 187, namely 75 elite
chelandia pamphyloi and 112 other dromons: text in Pryor & Jeffreys p.550. –
Given the number of rowers and marines, the higher figure of 197 given by Heath
should perhaps be preferred.

Ship Numbers

In the Cretan expedition of 911, the contingents of the fleets were as follows
according to Gibbon’s Decline, vol 9, p. 354. The figures in square brackets are
from Heath, Dark Ages, 1976.

The Central Fleet:

100 [or 102] ships from the central or Imperial Fleet - 40 elite* pamphylians and
60 other dromonds [sic].

(*) This distinction follows Pryor & Jeffreys, who argue that ‘pamphylians’
were vessels crewed by picked mariners rather than being a distinct ship
type or design.

Provincial Fleets:
(a) 31 from the Cibyrrh. Theme: 16 elite pamphylians and 15 other dromons.
Oarsmen and marines: 6,760 men, average 218 per ship.
Cf ships’ complements in the Thematic fleets in 929: 108-110 men per
Ousakios; 120-150 per Pamphylos; and 220 officers and oarsmen per large
Dromon (Heath 1976: 13). Average: 164, not including marines.

(b) 22 from the Samos Theme: 12 pamphylians and 10 other dromonds.

Oarsmen and marines: 5,690 or average 259 men per vessel, so nearly all
must have been bigger ships (e.g. 200 rowers, 40 marines and 19 others).

(c)17 from the Aegean Theme: 7 pamphylians and 10 other dromonds.

Oarsmen and marines: 3,100 or average 182 per ship, so possibly none was of
the largest type.
Subtotal 35 and 35 [vs Heath’s 33 and 42].

(d) 10 from the Helladic Theme: 10 dromonds [Heath: 10 ships]. All were the
larger type of dromon, i.e. with 230 oarsmen/naval crew and 70 marines each
(text of Constantine in Pryor & Jeffreys p.550).

Grand total 180 ships [Heath says “197”], i.e. 75 pamphylians and 105 other
dromonds, Or according to Toynbee, 1973, p. 33, 33 larger and 42 smaller type

pamphyla; and 102 other dromons: total “177”. As noted, Constantine himself
says “187” in all.

There is no actual reference to specialist horse-transport ships, but there is

mention of large amounts of barley and also skalai, which no doubt meant
gangways or boarding ramps. Leo says “he [Nicephorus] had brought ramps with
him [to Crete] on the transport ships and thus transferred the army, fully armed
and mounted, from the seas to dry land” (Leo Diac. I:3; also Dromon p.306). - See
below for a discussion of what may be deduced from the amount of barley; it is
possible that Constantine’s “187” meant only warships and that there were
further ships dedicated to transporting horses.

Mariners, Marines and Soldiers

The estimates for the number of fighting men, or at least the number of specialist
fighters - marines and embarked soldiers - vary from about 6,000 (Treadgold) to
over 17,000 (Whittow and Haldon). These scholars assume, which is by no means
certain, that the rowers did not fight, or at least not on this expedition. It is stated
explicitly, at least for the later expedition of 949, that many or even most of the
rowers were armed to fight: see Dromon p.261.

i. Of the “42,774” men on the 911 expedition, “36,837” or 86% were rowers,
according to Treadgold. The embarked fighting men or specialist fighters may
have numbered only about 5,937 (sic: Treadgold, Army p.190, note 11).

ii. Heath 1976: 13, following Gibbon, offers these figures: 34,000 rowers; ‘7,340’
land troops; 5,087 ‘Mardaites of the West’ [marines]; and 700 Rus mercenaries.
These are the actual numbers quoted by Constantine himself: text in Pryor &
Jeffreys, Dromon p.550. Adding the last three we have 13,127 fighting men. Cf
Whittow’s figures, below.

iii. Haldon says “just over 17,000 (excluding oarsmen)” in his Byzantium at War
1997, excerpted at
“Irrespective of what one makes of Treadgold’s aggregate statistics and
projections, one should remember that for an imperial field-army of the middle-
Byzantine period to have consisted of 25-30,000 troops was exceptional, and
even when on campaign against strategically vital targets such as Crete in 911 or
949, the [fighting] forces deployed could be considerably smaller” (Haldon 1997).

iv. Mark Whittow, The Making of Byzantium, 600-1025, University of California

Press 1996, p.185 presents the figures thus:

Mardaïtes (from the 5,087
Peloponnesus and
Imperial fleet, marines 4,200
Kibyrrhotai fleet 1,190
Russians (Imperial fleet) 700
Samos flotilla 700
Hellas flotilla 700
Aegean flotilla 490
Subtotal 13,067

13,067 / 70 = 187.
This figure nicely
tallies with the
“187” ships said to
have sailed, “70”
being a standard
complement of


Land troops:
Tagmata 1,037
Thrakesian Theme 1,000
Sebasteis Theme 1,000
Armenians from Palation 500
(in the Anatolikon)
Armenians from Priene 500
(in the Thrakesion)
Sub-total 4,037

Grand-total 17,104

The amount of horse-feed carried would have fed as many as 10,000 cavalry
mounts for about two weeks, but in all probability the number of horses taken
was more like 5,000 (say Pryor & Jeffreys, Dromon p.306). This figure seems high,
noting that in the later expedition of 949 (see there) the cavalry mounts
numbered only a few more than 2,000 animals. Moreover 5,000 horses translates
as 27 animals per ship on average. And we know that medieval specialist horse-
transport ships ordinarily carried fewer than 30 horses each (Gardiner 2004: 115).
If the expedition really had that many horses, then it was very severely
overcrowded, each ship also having to accommodate on average about 230
humans (using Treadgold’s figures). Of course Constantine’s “187” vessels may
have meant only the warships; the several thousand horses could well have been
transported in a further 100+ civilian galleys. The latter seems more likely, given
that the expedition of 949 comprised “3,308” vessels of all sizes, including
troopships, horse-transporters and supply boats.

The 911 operation cost 234,732 nomismata, more than a ton of gold. The
campaign of 949 was less ambitious, costing only 127,122 nomismata. Or so says
Oikonomides in Laiou, ed. 2002. The figures given by Treadgold, Army p.189, are
239,128 nomismata for 44,908 men in 911 and 209,622 nomismata for 27,010
men in 949, the latter being only a partial tally. On both occasions, contributions
in kind had been levied on certain provinces; these met some of the needs of the
expeditionary forces (foodstuffs, technical equipment, packhorses) and were not
included in the accounts.
Among the 8,000 or so non-marine troops there was one regiment of 700 Rus
(Varangians). The rest were drawn from the Tagmata and the eastern frontier
themes, while the nearby Thracesian theme, west-central Asia Minor, was passed
over, or at least its Greek troops were. This may have reflected the waning quality
of the inner themes. The region of Prine in the Thracesian did contribute 500
soldiers, but it was an Armenian colony (Toynbee p.85).
Some cavalry from the Thracesian Theme who were not joining the 949
expedition were asked to pay four nomismata each to be excused; the proceeds
went to soldiers of the Charpezicium Theme (*) in far eastern Anatolia [NE of
Melitene], who did go. We may guess that the latter were more highly regarded as
fighting troops (Treadgold, Army p.78).

(*) In 949 the the roll of Charpezicium was 2,400 men, all ethnic Arab
cavalrymen (ibid.).

The French king (“West Francia”) allows Vikings to settle permanently in

what is now Normandy, provided they convert to Christianity. Over the
next century they will become more French than the French.

The Economy

Constantinople: The ‘Book of the Prefect’, Gk: To eparxikon biblion, a legal text
written in 911 or 912, provides the fundamental framework for a consideration of
commerce in the medieval capital. Its regulations cover 22 types of activity by
guilds (systemata), some of which are assigned to designated parts of the city.
Cattle traders, butchers, fishmongers, bakers, spice and silk merchants, the
latter of both raw and finished silk, shipwrights, even notaries, money changers
and goldsmiths - all had to belong to the guild organization. As for enslaved
workers, the Book of the Prefect fixes no limits on their use except in banking.
The text portrays a level of commercial activity that is “buoyant if regulated”,
according to Talbot, Commercial Map of Constantinople, online at, accessed 2005.

911-19: England: Under Edward the Elder, r. 899-925, son of Alfred

[Aelfred] the Great (d. ca 899/900), the southern Anglo-Saxons of Wessex
annex parts of the neighbouring kingdom of Mercia and begin to dominate
the region NE of the Thames River. Oxford and London are annexed in
From there they will conquer north-east and north into the “Danelaw”,
the Danish Kingdoms of East Anglia and York. By 918-19 Edward will
establish fortress-villages as far north as Nottingham and Manchester.

By 912:
Croatia had emerged as a kingdom. Although often allied with Byzantium, it
looked more to the ‘Frankish’ kingdoms of N Italy-Germany-France for its model of
civilisation. The Croats shared a border with the German-Franks in what is now

1. Death of Leo IV, aged 46. Leo’s son Constantine was only seven years old, so
Leo’s younger brother ALEXANDER, aged 42, succeeded to the throne in 912.
Alexander set about to reverse the policies and programs of Leo, but he died* in
913 after accomplishing little other than stirring Symeon up against the empire
once again. See 912-13 below.

(*) The Continuator (as the anonymous chronicle author is called) says that
Alexander died of a stroke brought on by an ill-advised game of polo
played in the heat of the day after a heavy lunch (Norwich 1993: 125).

2. The Aegean: As noted, on the way home from the disastrous failure of the
Cretan expedition, Himerius and the imperial fleet were crushed by the Muslims
admirals Leo [Lawun] of Tripoli and Damianos [Damyana] of Tarsus (the latter
probably also a Byzantine renegade) in a battle off the island of Chios in the
spring of 912. Pryor & Jeffreys p.385 list this as one of the more disastrous defeats
suffered by the imperial navy. Himerius was replaced as admiral of the fleet by
Romanus Lecapenus (the future emperor).
At this time, either on the way west or, more likely, when returning eastward,
Damian of Tarsus carried off Christians from Cyprus “because the inhabitants had
broken the treaty” [of AD 688]. That is to say, they had either refused to pay
taxes or molested the Cypriot Muslims, or both. Others say Damian was taking
reprisal for an earlier breach of Cyprus’s neutrality by Himerius (Toynbee 1973:

Leo’s successor emperor Alexander, reigned 912-13, breaks the treaty of 896:
Khan Symeon invades Thrace and his army penetrates to the walls of the East-
Romanic capital (913). The war with Bulgaria will continue off and on until 927.
In the 20th year of his reign, Symeon led the main body of the Bulgarian army
on a march without opposition through East Roman Thrace and camped before

the walls of Constantinople itself. His troops ringed the whole length of the land
walls, from the Golden Horn to the Sea of Marmara.

913: Western Persia was conquered by the Buwayhids, a Deylamite Persian

tribal confederation from the shores of the Caspian Sea. Buyids were a
Shi‘ah Iranian dynasty which founded a confederation that controlled most
of modern-day Iran and Iraq in the 10th and 11th centuries. They made the
city of Shiraz (in the Pars Province of Iran) their capital.

1. Emperor Alexander dies [6 June 913], having named his nephew, Constantine
Porphyrogenitus, Leo VI’s son, as his successor. Regency under Patriarch

2. As noted, Khan Symeon invaded Thrace and his army penetrated to the walls of
the East Roman capital. There he is crowned “emperor” (see below for discussion
of this).

3. Arab sea expedition under Damian, Emir of Tarsus; it fails when he dies
(Runciman p.123). At the same time the Arabs conducted a successful land
expedition from Mesopotamia into Anatolia.

4. Failed coup by the general Constantine Ducas. Ducas was killed by the militia,
and the coup collapsed; his son was castrated and his supporters were variously
‘empaled’, blinded or exiled (Runciman 1963: 50).

5. In Armenia, to save Christian lives, king Sembat surrenders to general Yusuf

and at Dvin is killed horribly; the Christian world sees Sembat as a martyr. Yusuf
rules in Armenia while in Abasgia [modern Georgia], Sembat’s son Ashot receives
the Armenian crown. (See 914.) War ensues between Armenian rivals in

6a. Sicily/Africa: The Fatimid emir of Sicily, Ibn Qurub [Ahmad ibn Ziyadat Allah
ibn Qurhub], breaks with Kairouan, nominally allying himself with Baghdad but in
reality declaring independence (Metcalfe 2009: 47). See 917.

6b. Ibn Qurub sent a flotilla to raid Calabria (McCormick 2001: 968).

Regency for the eight years old boy-Basileus CONSTANTINE VII
‘Porphyrogenitos' (born in the purple', i.e. born to a reigning emperor), son of
Leo IV.
The patriarch Nicholas Mysticus was regent 913-14; then the emperor’s
mother, ZOË Carbonopsina, 914-919/20.

The Crowning of Tsar Symeon, 913

The Bulgarian kynaz (‘prince’) was conducted (913) into the city, or rather his
sons were. At the same time the patriarch Nicholas Mysticus - who was president
of the regency council: the new emperor, Constantine, was a boy of eight - “went
out” of the city, and there, presumably in the Bulgarian camp, in an ambiguous
ceremony, he crowned Symeon [aged 48 or 49] as ‘emperor’, Greek ‘Basileus’ or
Slavic Tsar, as in ‘Caesar’. The full passage in Theophanes Continuatus reads

“The Patriarch Nicholas and Stephen and the magistros John took the
emperor [young Constantine VII] and made for Blachernai [palace], where
they welcomed Simeon's two sons who dined with the emperor in the
palace. Then the Patriarch Nicholas went out [of the city] to Simeon, and
Simeon bowed his head to him. After he had prayed, the Patriarch placed
his own mitre [or patriarchal veil: Gk epirrhiptarion] instead of the crown

(stemma) - so they say (hos phasi) - on Simeon's head.” - Theophanes

Continuatus, ed. Bekker, p.381 ff.

But emperor of whom or what is not certain. Some propose he was crowned as
emperor of Byzantium, i.e. co-emperor with eight-years-old Constantine VII, or
perhaps just emperor of the Bulgarians; others have suggested that he was made
Caesar, i.e. junior emperor of Byzantium. But it is clear from Nicholas’s letters to
Symeon that the latter was in 913 seeking to obtain the Byzantine throne. The
majority opinion is that he was crowned as emperor of the Bulgarians (Fine 1991:
145; also Norwich 1993: 128). At any rate by 925 at the latest, he was styling
himself “emperor of the Bulgarians and Romans [Byzantines]”. “Never before”,
writes Obolensky, “had a Christian prince whose country was part of the
Byzantine Commonwealth claimed the supreme rank in the ‘oecumenical’ society
of nations whose legitimate head was the emperor in Constantinople”, namely the
boy-emperor Constantine.

A further Byzantine source writes thus of the events of 913: “He [Symeon], hidden
beneath his helmet of darkness, called for fellow celebrants and proposed the
confirmation of the covenant. But he [Nicholas] opposed this and said straight out
that it was abominable for Romans to do proskynêsis [perform prostration*] to an
emperor (basileus) unless he was a Roman; ‘Rather wear your makeshift diadem
for a little, and let your fellow celebrants [Bulgarians] do you proskynêsis’”
(Theodore Daphnopates). —In Jenkins 1966b.
Thus the sources may seem to imply that the coronation of 913 was a sham
ceremony; but this is likely to be a later Byzantine slant, as it seems clear that
Symeon himself departed satisfied with whatever had transpired . . . (Browning
p.62 and Fine p. 145, quoting the Chronicle of the Logothete). Cf 920, 925.

(*) Kneeling three times with the head touching the ground.

Cf Obolensky 1971: 144 on Symeon’s imperial titles: “In the 9th century
nationalism as we know it today did not yet exist. Political thought, at least in
Eastern Europe, was dominated by the idea of one universal empire whose centre
was in Constantinople. This empire was by definition a unique and all-embracing
institution. And so Symeon, impelled by restless ambition, convinced of the innate
superiority of all things Byzantine and well grounded as he was in East Roman
political philosophy, was driven to the only course of action he could logically
adopt: to try to make himself master of an enlarged Byzantine Empire which
would include Bulgaria. To achieve this he needed to capture Constantinople and
seat himself on the imperial throne”. Cf 917.

Bulgaria under Symeon

Slavonic culture flourished in Bulgaria under Symeon, khan 893-927, ruling with
the title of ‘tsar’ or emperor from 913. As we saw, he established a new capital at
Preslav, near the Black Sea coast. His father Boris had proclaimed Slavonic as the
language of the Church in Bulgaria, and introduced the new Cyrillic alphabet in
the last year of his reign. Under Symeon, Slavonic became the medium for written
communications: Greek was discarded except in messages to other rulers.
In tactical terms Symeon usually prevailed in his military clashes with
Byzantium. For example in 895 he destroyed a large imperial army at
Bulgarophygon near Adrianople. By 904 he held parts of northern Greece within
sight of Thessalonica, and lower Greece was regularly plundered.

The Bulgarian-Byzantine frontier at this time lay just beyond Adrianople. See 914.
The Bulgarians ruled in Philippopolis. They also controlled a tongue of land north
of Thessaloniki which reached to the Aegean, meaning that there was no
overland route for the Byzantines from the capital to Thessaloniki.

The Caucasus: A massive ‘Russian’ (Viking Rus’) attack in the Caspian


region, as related by al-Mas’udi: “500” boats each holding “100” men –

both figues look exaggerated - came down the Don River, and sought
permission from the Khazars to cross to the Volga, which gave them
entrance to the Caspian (the lower Don and the lower Volga almost touch
as one point, and the Volga runs thence into the Caspian).
They raided all around the Caspian Sea, even as far as Muslim
Tabaristan, the south shore of the Caspian. As Davidson remarks, 1976:
127, Mas’udi’s account reminds us of Viking raids on the British Isles. On
their return the Rus were intercepted by a Muslim force and heavily

912-961: The Islamic state in greater Andalusia (al-Andalus: Muslim Spain)

reaches the peak of its power and renown under emir ‘Abd ar-Rahman III,
who from 929 will style himself Caliph. Cf 947, 949.

1a. Zoë seizes control of the regency government. Learning that the empress
would not let the boy-emperor marry his daughter, Symeon of Bulgaria again
invades Thrace, and, by bribery, takes Adrianople. Zoe promptly bribes the city
back into Byzantine hands (Runciman 1963: 83; Treadgold, State p.474). See 915-
Symeon I demands to be recognised as the emperor of Byzantium, but Nicholas
writes rejecting this.

1b. The eunuch Damianus was appointed Drungary (commander) of the elite
regiment of the Watch during the regency, 914-919, by Empress-regent Zoe,
mother of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (Theoph. Cont. 386).

2. The yearly Syrian-Arab land raid from Tarsus ended in failure. Cf 915.
Shepard, in NCMH vol 3 p.556, notes that Saracen forces raiding into Anatolia
at this time usually numbered fewer than 10,000 men.

3. Zoë decides to aid the exiled Armenian king Ashot. He travels to

Constantinople, and plans are hatched for a joint campaign against the Muslims.
See 915.

4. Italy: Nicolas Picingli is appointed Strategus of Longobardia (modern Puglia),

with a brief of uniting the local Christian princes against the Italian-based Muslim
brigands. He arrives in Italy with extra troops (see 915) (Runciman p.53).
The Arabs of Sicily raid Calabria, but an attack from behind by the African
Fatimids, their previous overlords, brought this attack to nothing. Cf next.

5. Italy: Constantinople directs the strategos of Calabria, Eustathios, to conclude a

truce with Ahmad ibn Ziyadat Allah [Ahmad ibn Ziyadat Allah ibn Qurhub], the
amir of Sicily, agreeing to a “humiliating” annual tribute of 22,000 pieces of gold
(Runciman p.54; Dromon p.68). The treaty was concluded sometime in the period

914-915: North Africa: The Abbasids defeat several Fatimid attacks on


r. Pope John X.
With the backing of Berengar I, the German-Italian king of Italy, John helped
persuade the Latin aristocracy of Rome to unite with the Byzantines (Romaniyans)
against the Italian-based Saracens whose raids were ruining central Italy. The
Muslims were defeated (below: 915) by a combined army led by the Romaniyan
(‘Greek’) general, Nicholas Picingli.

1a. The new Emir of Tarsus, Bishra or Bishr, leads a successful land raid into

Byzantine Anatolia. He claimed to have captured 150 patrikioi (nobles and senior
officials) and about 2,000 people altogether (Tabari, trans. Rosenthal p.206).

1b. The “Armenian War”: Zoe sends a Rhomaioi army under the Domestic, Leo
Phocas, to Mesopotamia to relieve pressure on Armenia by the Arabs - “a great
force from the tagmata and themes, including Melias and his Armenians”
(Treadgold 1997: 474). Leo defeats the Arabs of Tarsus, Germanicea and
Samosata, and then proceeds to the north-east, reaching the outskirts of Dvin,
seat of the Muslim governor of Armenia. King Ashot reclaims control of eastern
Armenia. See 919.

2. Italy: As a direct result of the fear produced by the large Saracen attack of 902,
several of the various autonomous states of southern Italy – the Capuans,
Beneventans, Salernitans – eventually agreed to join forces with the Byzantines
and the Papacy to wipe out the Arab forces settled since 881 on the Garigliano
River just south of Gaeta (to the north or NW of Naples).

Extirpation of the Muslim ‘Pirate Nest’ in West-Central Italy

The new Strategus of Longobardia, Nicholas Picingli, forms a pan-Italian alliance -

Lombard-papacy-Byzantine - against the Arabs headquartered in their formidable
fortified ‘raiding colony’ [kairouan, ‘fortified settlement’, literally an army resting
point or camp] on the Garigliano River on the coast above Naples. Reinforcements
are sent from the East (Byzantium) to Italy to help clear the last Arabs from
Campania: major Christian victory over the Muslims near Capua. This greatly
raised Byzantine prestige in the West (Runciman, Lecapenus p.53) Cf 926.
It is recorded that for one expedition to Italy around this time the Peloponnesus
was commanded to supply “1,000” horses (Lefort in Laiou, ed. 2000, citing Const.

The Christians scored two significant victories at Campo Baccano, on the Via
Cassia and in the area of Tivoli near Rome. After these defeats, the Muslims
occupying Narni and Ciculi (both north of Rome)* moved back to the main
Saracen stronghold on the Garigliano: this was a fortified settlement (Ar. kairuan)
whose site, however, has not yet been identified with certainty. The siege began
in June 915.

(*) Ciculi is near near Terni: on the upper river Salto.

When Picingli marched north, Naples and Gaeta were induced to break with the
Saracens and briefly cooperated with the Byzantines; the Pope, the Lombard duke
of Spoleto and the Capuans sent forces to aid Picingli. Picingli bestowed the still
prestigious title of ‘Patrikios’ on the dukes of Gaeta and Naples, and induced
these former friends of the Saracens to participate in the league. In Gaeta’s case,
a further inducement was the promise of the Pope to cede part of his territories to
Picingli then led his fleet to the delta of the Garigliano, while the southern
Italian lords took their position on the coast below the Saracen fortress. From the
(upper) land side, other troops moved in close, possibly led by Pope John X in
person, or at least he was titular commander.
June-August 915: Romaniyan (‘Greek’) ships blockaded the mouth of the river
Garigliano. Starved out after three months, the Saracens fled inland but were all
killed. The Garigliano Saracens received no help from outside because the Sicilian
Arabs were fighting the Tunisian Arabs (Runciman 1963: 185).

Picingli’s Byzantines, Atenulf’s Capuans, the Beneventans and Guaimar’s

Salernans took a position south of the Arab encampment; while the Papal and
Spoletan troops under Berenguer of Friuli and the margrave of Spoleto encircled
the encampment on the north. The Byzantine fleet blockaded the river-mouth,
cutting off a sea retreat.
While Pope John X is supposed to have led the troops of Tuscany, Rome and

Lazio (Latium), the key commanders on land were probably Theophylact of

Tusculum, the military commander of the troops of Rome and de facto ruler of the
city; and duke Alberic of Spoleto who was married to Theophylact’s daughter.
As Rodriquez relates, the Byzantine fleet began to enter the mouth of the river
in June while the land troops maneuvered to form a human wall around the
fortified Arab camp. In this action all the main lords of Southern Italy were
present: Duke Gregory of Naples, Atenulf of Capua and Guaimar of Salerno
accompanied by the two northerners, count Berenguer of Friuli and the margrave
or duke of Spoleto. The commander of the coalition, the strategos Picingli,
directed operations against the foot of the main hill where the Saracen defence
was concentrated. For three months (June-August) the fort was carefully
blockaded until, urged by necessity, the besieged Arabs decided in August to
sneak out following the advice of the lords of Naples and Gaeta. After setting fire
to the camp, the Arabs tried to flee in small groups through the neighbouring
mountains; but there they were attacked by the Christian troops and few
managed to escape alive.

In Romanic/Byzantine Italy from the 10th to the 12th century, the Basilian monks
will cultivate calligraphy at Grottaferrata, at St. Salvatore at Messina, at Stilo in
Calabria, at the monastery of Cassola, near Otranto, at St. Elias at Carbone, and
especially at the Patir [patirion, ‘foundation-site’, ‘mother-monastery’] of Rossano
[NE Calabria]. The latter was established later (in the eleventh century) by St.
Bartholomew, who bought books at Constantinople and copied several
manuscripts. —Brehier 1910.

The Balkans: The Bulgarians under Symeon campaign south to Thessalonica, and
perhaps as far as the Gulf of Corinth, and west towards the Adriatic. Adrianople
falls to the Bulgarians once again; but when Zoë dispatches a large army,
Symeon withdraws. Cf 918.

915-21: Armenia: Building of the cathedral of Aght’amar, on an island in

Lake Van. – Designed by the architect Manuel for King Gagik.

1. Asia Minor: Double raid by Muslim forces: general Munis led an army from
Melitene and Abu’l-Kasma led another from Tarsus. The former was successful;
the latter was apparently stymied by the Byzantines (Runciman p.125).

2. Bulgaria: d. St Clement ‘of Ohrid’, scholar and writer, the first Bulgarian
archbishop. He was commissioned by the late Boris I of Bulgaria to teach and
instruct the future clergy of the state into the Slavonic language. For a period of
seven years - between 886 and 893 - Clement taught the Slavonic language and
the Glagolitic alphabet to some 3,500 disciples.

Italy: Some Romaniyan (‘Greek’) forces are withdrawn from Italy (recalled to
Thrace: see 917); also Picingli departs. The new Strategus of Calabria makes a
treaty (c.917?) with the Sicilian Saracens, at the price of 22,000 gold pieces yearly
(Runciman 1963: 186).

1. A major East Roman embassy went to Samarra and Baghdad. This is described
by several Muslim writers and is thus our best recorded event of this kind. In the
resulting prisoner exchange, the Caliphate recovered 5,500 people, says Ibn al-
Jawzi. The caliph paid for the release some of the enslaved Greeks involved in the
exchange (Kennedy, Near East p.177).
The Byzantines envoys were received with the most elaborate ceremony at the
caliph’s palace along the bank of the Tigris River. The sources describe at length
the palaces (with “700” porters or doorkeepers) traversed by the ambassadors,

the armies in satin uniforms, and the menageries of exotic animals that they
witnessed: lines of elephants, giraffes, leopards, and “100” lions. The Arabs laid
out massive amounts of gold and silver objects, jewels, and carpets (“22,000”
floor carpets and “38,000” pieces of tapestry) to impress the visitors. The cost of
the furnishings, drapes, and carpets for the audience hall alone was 30,000
dinars. —Book of Gifts and Rarities: Kitab al-Hadaya wa al-Tuhaf, by Anon., ed.
and trans. G.H. al-Qaddumi: Cambridge, Mass., 1996, pp.152, 155.

2a. Zoë decides that she should concentrate her forces against Bulgaria. See
She opens negotiations with the Arabs, which commence with a grand
reception in Baghdad for her ambassadors. But, while discussion was taking
place, dual raids were again conducted into Anatolia. A peace treaty was struck
thereafter, and the raids ended (until 922). The Byzantines also raised the status
of Lycandus, east of Caesarea in the direction of Melitene, from a cleisura to a
full theme. The fortress-town of Lycandus, in the N foothills of the Anti-Taurus
range, lay about halfway between Caesarea and Tephrice.

Cappadocia: Many of the rock-cut buildings, with their elaborate defences, in the
Goreme valley west of Caesarea/Kayseri date from the first half of this century
(ODB ii: 860).

Defeat at Achialus and Katasurtas

2b. Attack on Bulgaria: Zoe orders a large combined land-sea operation against
Symeon. This results in one of the worst defeats in New-Roman (Byzantine)
Leo Phocas commands the army, while Romanus Lecapenus commands the
navy. Symeon fears being squeezed between the Pechenegs and the imperial
forces. Leo offers to ferry the Pechenegs across the lower Danube; but they
withdraw, judging that the monies already paid to them are enough. Then, on 17
August, north of Anchialus/Acheloos on the Black Sea coast, the Bulgarians crush
the imperial army under Leo Phocas and sweep back into Thrace. There at
Katasurtas Symeon defeats a second large Byzantine army.
The Bulgarian Tsar was now de facto master of the Balkans.

The generals Leo Phocas and John Bogas, formerly strategos of Cherson
(Khersón), our Crimea, were able to gather additional troops from Asia Minor,
supposedly “110,000” men in all - although this is far too large a figure. After all,
the entire enrolled army and marines, serving from Italy to Chaldia, was only
124,000 (Treadgold, Army p.67). The troops brought across from Asia are
mentioned in Leo Grammaticus, Chronographia, p.244. Let us imagine, therefore,
that half the Tagmata (14,000) went on expedition, along with the full strength of
the themes of Macedonia and Thrace (10,000) and the same number (10,000)
drawn from the themes of Asia; that would give us 34,000. As noted below,
Haldon guesses “30,000” troops.
Romanus Lecapenus commanded the fleet at the mouth of the Danube.
The Bulgarians, under Simeon the Great, had an army supposedly of “70,000”
men (Miracula S. Georgii, cited in Wikipedia 2009, ‘Battle of Anchialus’) but again
this seems too large a figure.

Theophanes Continuatus: “ … having made the customary cash payments to the

tagmata, both conscripted forces and the thematic armies were transported
[shipped from Asia] to Thrace. ... The magistros Leo Phokas was Domestic of the
Schools [commander-in chief]: he was a man more renowned for his bravery than
for his knowledge of generalship. Then the venerable and life-giving cross was led
out to Thrace by Constantine Kephalas, protopapas [vicar, head priest] of the
palace, and Constantine Balelias, where everyone bowed before it and and swore

together to die for each other, and they set forth in full array against the
Bulgarians. The tagma of the Exkoubitoi was commanded by John Grapson, the
tagma of the Hikanatoi by Maroules’ son. Romanos Argyros was a general, as was
his brother Leo, and Bardas Phokas, with whom went Melias with the Armenians
and all the other generals (strategoi) of the themata” ( - thus Theophanes
It is claimed, but the figure must be rejected, that ‘70,000’ out of ‘110,000’
Byzantines were killed. So many were killed nevertheless that it was said their
bones could still be observed 75 years later (Wikipedia 2009, ‘Battle of Anchialus’,
citing Leo Diaconus).

Subsequently: “The Bulgarians were so inspired by the victory that they invaded
as far as the City. Leo, the Domestic of the Schools, John the hetaireiarches
[commander of the imperial bodyguard] and Nicholas the son of Doukas went out
to a village in Thrace called Katasurtas, taking a very large army against the
Bulgarians. At night the Bulgarians launched a surprise attack on them, and the
Domestic fled, but Nicholas the son of Doukas was killed alongside many others.”
– Theophanes, quoted in accessed 2003.

Above: The Battle of Anchialus/Acheloos, 917. From the Madrid

Skylitzes Left: Bulgarians. Right: Byzantines.
Points to notice: (1) the foremost Bulgarian cavalryman seem to be
using his kontarion or pike to poke (i.e. it is not couched under the
arm); (2) the saddle on the riderless Byzantine horse, with its highish
pommel and and canticle; (3) the shields of the Byzantines, shaped
like an almond or inverted teardrop.

John Haldon’s Account of the Battle of Acheloos (Haldon 2001: 87 ff)

It is, he says, a good example of the role of chance in battle, for an otherwise
well-prepared and well-led army managed to lose because of a misunderstanding
half-way through the fight and the ensuing panic which set in.

The Byzantine plan was to have the Pechenegs fall on the Bulgarians from the
rear, while the imperial army attacked from the front, the navy guarding the
Danube mouth and Black Sea coast and providing logistical support.
In August 917 general Leo Phokas led the army as far as the region of the
Acheloos river, the modern Aheloj or Aheloy, a little inland from Anchialis, modern
Pomorie. The Aheloy River enters the Black Sea about midway between Pomorie
and Nesebar (medieval Mesembria). He had perhaps 30,000 men, drawn from
the Tagmata, Thrace and Macedonia, and some of the Asian themes.
Symeon came forward, and his army, whose size is not known: presumably

smaller, took up a position in the hills (east of modern Aytos) overlooking the
coastal plain where the imperial troops were encamped.
The two armies formed up on the plain, and Symeon ordered an attack. In the
first phase the Byzantines got much the better of it, but when Leo dismounted to
take a drink at a stream his horse bolted. The riderless horse caused some of his
troops to believe Leo was dead. Scylitzes (Cedrenus) says that Leo was bathing at
the time, and his riderless horse took fright and caused a panic among the troops,
who thought their general dead. Meanwhile the Bulgarians had begun to made an
orderly withdrawal, and Symeon, seeing the Byzantines begin to panic, ordered
his men to turn around and attack. This halted the Byzantine advance and indeed
panicked them into a disorderly retreat and then a rout. The Bulgarians pursued
with vigour.
Byzantine casualties were high, although Leo himself managed to reach
Mesembria (modern Nessebar or Nesebur) on the coast. (From the mouth of the
Aheloy to Nessebar is about eight km.) So many were the dead that it was
reported some 60 years later that heaps of skulls and the whitened bones of the
fallen could be seen strewn along the banks of the Acheloos.

This disaster ushered in period, says Haldon, in which the Byzantines improved
their fighting ability by insisting on greater discipline and more caution or at least

4. Italy: The Strategus of Calabria, Eustathius, strikes a treaty with the Fatimid
Caliph or anti-caliph of ‘Africa’ or Tunisia, who was engaged in re-subduing the
independent emirate of Palermo. With the fall of the Emir of Palermo, Abu Sa'id
Musa ibn 'Ahmad, called al-Dhaif (917), the Fatimids resumed control over Sicily
(Runciman 1963: 54, 186). See 918.
New governor of Sicily: the Berber (Algerian) leader Salim ibn Asad ibn Rashid
al-Kutami, 917-37.

5. Idrisid Morocco becomes a tributary of the Fatimids. See 985.

1. Byzantine diplomacy entangles Bulgaria in war with Serbia.

2. Italy: Perhaps because of the switch-over from Eustathios to Muzalon as

strategos, the payment to the Arabs is not made. The army of Salim ibn Rashid,
the Fatimid Emir of Sicily (917-37) crosses to Reggio on the toe-point of the Italian
peninsula, which he captures and sacks, then withdraws. This ensured prompt
payment of the Romanic/Byzantine “tribute” (Runciman p.187).

Magyars raid west as far as Basel, in p.d. Switzerland (Germany-


100th anniversary of the first clash between

Rhomaniya/Byzantium and the Varangian Rus …

Byzantine Calabria: Almost annual attacks on Reggio and other towns by Arabs
from Sicily: in 918, 923-24, 925-26, 928-29 and 929-30 (Kreutz p.98).
Fatimid emir: Salim ibn Asad ibn Rashid al-Kutami, 917-37.

From 919:
Series of letters to Tsar Symeon by Patriarch Nicholas.

As noted, in 913 Symeon came east unopposed to the walls of the imperial city
itself. But there he had to halt: the Bulgarians could not threaten the
empire’s heartland in Asia Minor because they lacked a navy. The
Rhomaioi therefore always had the upper hand strategically and could
wait out any of Symeon’s challenges. But Byzantium was not, as Browning says,

“essentially a maritime power” (p.135). Political struggles were decided on-shore.

The navy did, however, provide the strategic framework for the army’s offensives
on land, especially against Bulgaria and in Italy.
Symeon extracted from Byzantium the title Basileus (913) and was promised
the hand of one of the emperor’s daughters, an unprecedented concession. This
turned out to be the usual cynical Greek diplomacy: the marriage was not
delivered. And, although Symeon crushed a combined sea and land operation
directed by the Rhomaioi against the centre of his power in NE Bulgaria (917), the
walls of the Great City continued to block him from his ambition, which was to
occupy the Roman throne. He ravaged in vain through Thrace and the Balkans for
the next ten years, until defeated by the Croats, the allies of Byzantium, during a
north-western expedition. He died the following year (927).




By this time cavalrymen no longer carried both bow and lance as they had in the
Sixth Century. Horsemen specialised either as archers or as lancers armed with
the kontarion or long thrusting spear. The two types were brigaded together. The
thematic (provincial) cavalry formed up in units five deep: the first two ranks were
lancers, then two ranks of archers [40% of the unit] and finally another rank of

(1.) Lancers

The predominant cavalry weapon was a very long thrusting or poking lance or
light pike, called a kontarion or kontos: some 12 feet or 3.7 metres long according
to Heath 1979: 34 (or longer: Dawson 2007b:61 offers four metres). It was
typically wielded with both hands.
The sword was the longish spathion of up to 36 inches: 85-90 cm, less
commonly suspended from the belt than hung from a baldric or transverse
shoulder strap: “in the Roman fashion”, as Leo says in the Taktika, VI.2. When
worn on a baldric, the sword hung vertically by the leg; belted swords hung nearly
One depiction of the spathion—in a soapstone carving reproduced in Dawson
2007b:19—allows it to be deduced as 85 cm long from the pommel to the tip of
the blade. As against this, Parani, 2003:131, citing the Sylloge Tacticorum [Gk
Syllogê Taktikôn] (s.38), says infantry swords were 94 cm or “0.936” metres [sic:
36 inches] long from pommel to point. Cavalry swords, she says, could be a little
longer: up to 110 cm or 43 inches.
For comparison, Frankish (Carolingian) spathae were usually between 90 and
100 cm in length, of which the blade represented some 75-80 cm (Couplan 1990).
The Byzantines also used the war mace: not only as a striking weapon as it
was principally used, but also as an effective throwing weapon. The Tactica of Leo
shows that the tzikourion (the throwing axe), the bardoukion and the matzoukion
(two types of maces) were employed as throwing weapons. Leo states that the
cavalry mace should have a spiked head of iron. The head featured spiked
projections designed to produce serious wounds. The shaft, normally of wood, was
between 60 and 80 cm long according to Kolias, cited by D’Amato 2008.

The cavalry shield was typically round and medium-size: diameter about 30
inches or 75 cm (up to 101 cm/40 inches if we follow Haldon 1999: 131). Kite-
shaped shields would not become common until the late 900s.
In Leo’s Taktika and the later Syll. Tact., the round shields of the cavalry range

from “0.936” metres [sic: 36 inches or three feet; the over-specificity is just the
result of Parani’s literal translating into metric] to “1.053” metres [sic: 3.5 feet or
42 inches] high (Parani p. 132). Shields seem to have become a little larger during
the century: Nicephorus Phocas’s [Nikêforos Fôkas] Praecepta Militaria or
‘Composition on Warfare’ of ca. AD 965 (text in McGeer) refers to cavalry shields
of around 105 cm.
Leo’s Taktika also mentions a small ‘target’, a round mini-shield attached to the
upper arm, of some 12 inches or 30 cm, presumably more commonly used by the

These troops wore iron helmets with ‘aventails’ (neck protectors), usually of
lamellar iron, or a hood of mail under the helmet. The predominant body armour
was laced lamellar, (*) usually of iron platelets [Gk: petala], although scale armour
and mail were also in use. Lamellar: metal platelets that point upwards. Scale:
overlapping metal platelets that point downwards (illustrated in Dawson 2007b).

(*) After about AD 940 lacing was replaced by the method of rivetting the
platelets to a leather backing strip. See discussion later of the ‘New

The lamellar or scale corselet (klibanion, plural klibania) reached only to the waist
and was either short-sleeved or even sleeveless whereas mail extended to the
mid-thigh and elbow. Sometimes a sleeveless lamellar corselet would be worn
over a sleeved mail tunic, so providing double protection. Pteruges or leather
thongs or strips provided upper-arm protection.
The troops were required to keep their klivania (klibania) with their laced iron
platelets polished so that they were “glittering and bright” (Taktika, quoted by
Dawson 2003, Levantia Historical Guide).
Some cavalry also wore splinted lower leg armour (greaves) of bronze (Haldon
1999:131), but high leather boots seem to me more common in the pictorial

GO HERE: for a wall-painting

(fresco) from the 11th C in which lamellar armour is well depicted. The fresco is in
the monastery of Hosios Loukas near the town of Distomo in today’s central

Above: An 11th C Byzantine ivory casket with illustration of soldiers or


nobles hunting [Troyes Cathedral treasury]. Points to notice: lamellar

corselets; knee-high boots; recurve bow (left); slashing sword
(spathion, right); round shield. The headress of the figure on the left is
a toupha, the crested crown or helmet worn during a triumph.

(2) Light javelin-cavalry:

There were also unarmoured cavalry called “trapezitoi”, carrying two or three
nine-foot or 2.75 metre javelins [Gk: akontion; see in McGeer] as well as a
kontarion and sword (Heath 1979: 38).
Parani proposes, citing the later Syll. Tact., that javelins were up to “2.81” m
long [sic: just over nine feet] (Reconstructing the Reality of Images, 2003: 139).

(3) Horse archers:

Heath says that the same bow was used by both cavalry and infantry, namely the
45-48 inch [1.1-1.2 metre] “Hunnic” composite bow. This is an error. Leo says
expressly that “the bow of the infantry archer is larger and carries further”. That
the infantry bow was larger than the cavalry bow is also stated in later 10th C
sources, e.g. the Sylloge, cited by McGeer p.213.
Parani 2003: 141, citing the Sylloge, say that bows were “1.17-1.25 metres”
long – meaning cavalry bows.
Leo says that horse-archers should not carry any shield; but it seems likely that
they did in practice carry, or wear, small ‘targets’ of about 12 inches or 30 cm on
their upper arm (Heath 1979: 8).

There is a longer treatment of archery in O’Rourke 2010, where I describe and
compare the Eastern composite bow and the Anglo-Welsh “simple” longbow.

Emperor Leo VI, d. 912: “Archery is a great weapon and an effective one,
especially for use against the Saracens and Turks [sic: Magyars]”. “Foot archers
[are] their special dread, since the bow of the infantry archer is larger and carries
further than that of the horsemen.” Quoted by Toynbee 1973: 315 and Hurley

It is not clear from Leo VI whether archery was already declining or remained all-
important into the 10th century. His insistence that every East-Roman boy should
learn to shoot could be read as implying that many or most did not (“wholly
neglected and has fallen into disuse”). This too may be indicated by his order
that, in the provinces, every house, or at least every soldier’s house, is to keep
one bow and 40 arrows. On the other hand, if the order was futile, it would not
have been issued. Archery did remain important in East-Roman armies until at
least 1204, and Leo does list bows and arrow first among the spare weapons that
Romaniyan (‘Byzantine’) troops must provide themselves with (Leo’s Taktika,
cited by Toynbee 1973: 315).
Writing later in the century, Phokas recommends that if there are 16,000
infantry, then 4,800 (or 30%) should be archers, while the rest are to be armed
with the kontarion (pike or long spear) (cited in Toynbee 1973: 314). This may
imply that many Romaics were expert archers until well into the 11th century. (I
would speculate – I can cite no actual evidence (*) – that archery remained vital
among the native ‘Greeks’ until the Comnenian period after AD 1100.)

(*) The sons of emperor Alexios I, 1081-1118, were brought up on archery and
hunting (see in Epstein, ‘Cultural Trends’). And Kinnamos says that prior to the
changes made by Manuel I, 1143-80, – who made the couched–lance charge the
key tactic of his armies – bows were very common in the Byzantine army (cited by
Pirani 2003: 141). Indeed Manuel himself deployed many Byzantine foot-archers
on occasion, albeit that he relied for his horse-archers mainly on Cumans and
Turks (Haldon 1999: 216-217).


a. Armoured infantry

The main infantry weapon of the East-Romans was the long thrusting spear or
light pike, the kontarion: over 12 feet long or up to 4 metres for the infantry.
As with cavalry, the sword was the medium-length 90 cm or 36 inch spathion.
Parani, p.131, citing the Syll. Tact. (s.38), says that infantry swords were “0.936”
[sic!] metres long from point to pommel; this is simply her exact metric rendering
of ‘36 inches’.*

(*) Easily visualised: the same length as today’s standard large umbrella.

Leo’s Taktika states that only the first two ranks of the skutatoi (‘shield-men’)
wore mail or lamellar corselets – in units formed up eight or even 16 deep. The
other six+ ranks wore the bambakion, a very thick padded and quilted surcoat of
heavy cotton (Heath 1979: 32).(*) It would become nearly universal after 944: see
later in this paper.

(*) Soldiers must have sweated in battle, at least in the south of the empire:
Athens and Antioch/Antakya both have average maximums of 300+ in the
hottest months, similar to that of Miami [31.70 in July and August] and
greater than that of Canberra or Sydney [28.00 and 25.90 respectively in
January]. Constantinople/Istanbul is warm enough too: average daily
maximum 28.50 in August. (These are present-day values: we pass over the
‘Medieval Warm Period’ in silence.)

The general infantry shield (skuta) was oval or nearly round: about three by four
feet, 90 cm x 122 cm, according to McGeer (or up to 137 cm = 4ft 6in if we follow
Haldon 1999: 131). Hence the term for a heavy, or rather “medium”, infantryman
was skutatos, plural skutatoi. The shield essentially protected the body from
shoulder to knee. Quite possibly shields increased in size later in this century:
Phokas writes in the 960s of infantry shields “no less than [140 cm] but if possible
even larger” (in McGeer p.205).
Dawson 2007b: 23 notes that while the manuals say a round or oval shield
might be a large as 90 cm or 35 inches in diameter, they are commonly depicted
as smaller, i.e. as little as 77 cm or 30 in. Tear-drop or almond shaped shields
could be 43 in or 110 cm long (high) but more commonly 37 inches (95 cm); we
see 95 cm in both the manuals and in artworks.

Angus McBride’s illustration, in Dawson 2007b: plate H, shows an heavy

infantrymen with an iron helmet of Phrygian shape: peaked at the front; a mail
coif or cowl to the shoulders; upper arm-guards of lamellar, a long lamellar cuirass
to mid-thigh, and high leather boots reaching above the knees. The soldier carries
a tear-drop shaped shield and a spathion hung on a baldric.

b. Light infantry

Light infantry archers (unarmoured) carried on a baldric a combined quiver-

bowcase of 40 arrows. It was a round-bottomed cylinder with the arrows inserted
point downwards (in contrast to the cavalry quiver).
For the length of an arrow, Haldon 1999: 131 offers 68 cm or 27 inches. Parani
2003: 141, citing the Sylloge, says “at least” 70 cm or over 28 inches.
The Romaic arrow, because the bow was drawn with the thumb, was fletched
with four feathers. The flights (feathers) were a symmetrical crescent shape and
quite small (illustration in Dawson 2007; also in Karasulas 2004: 25).
Foot-archers could be brigaded together in all-archer units or joined in
combined units with spearmen (typically 25% archers, 75% spearmen).

Poisoned arrows: In Leo’s Taktika we learn that the Saracens (Arabs) are better
versed in military science than all other peoples; this information the emperor

knows from generals who have fought them, from reports to preceding emperors
and from his father, Basil I (Leo, Taktika XVIII.123). Also, since the Arabs make
great use of cavalry, the Romans should use poisoned arrows to kill their horses.
The Arabs place high value on these apparently unarmoured fast-attack horses; if
they know that the Byzantines are using poisoned arrows, they will retreat in
order to save their horses, because without the horses, they cannot save
themselves (XVIII.135-136).

Against horse-archers from the steppes, e.g. the Magyars operating in Bulgaria
and Thrace [cf 934 below], Leo VI advised that the imperial cavalry should engage
quickly without exchanging preliminary arrow fire; the Byzantines’ heavier cavalry
could break them with their maces and thrusting spears. So too could the
Byzantine infantry with their more powerful bows, which shot further, enabling
them to shoot down the Magyar horses before the Magyars closed (Hyland p.50,
citing Oman). To repeat Leo’s statement: “Archery is a great weapon and an
effective one, especially for use against the Saracens and Turks [i.e. Magyars] . . .
Foot archers [are] their special dread, since the bow of the infantry archer is
larger and carries further than that of the horsemen”, wrote Leo VI, quoted by
Toynbee 1973: 315. fff
Leo the Deacon (II.2) reports that Leo Phokas used night attacks against the
Magyars, no doubt because this prevented them from using their usual fast

c. Servants, Groomsmen, Drivers

Carts or wagons were used, although sometimes in the Balkans nearly all the
equipment must have been carried on the backs of pack-mules. One mule-
attendant/servant was assigned to every 16 infantrymen to transport the tents,
provisions and other equipment (including a hand-powered grain-mill) and
munitions such as spare bows, arrows and caltrops (Leo, Taktika, cited by Dawson
2007b: 45).
One imagines that pack-animals far outnumbered two-wheel carts, with four-
wheel wagons limited to carrying the heaviest items. A pack-mule can carry no
more than 90-100 kg for extended periods (Haldon 1999: 282; and Pryor, in Pryor
ed, Logistics of Warfare 2006: 18).
If there were 10,000 infantry, the mule-attendants numbered 625. Assuming
(which is not certain) that each mule required one driver, we have perhaps 350
pack-mules, 180 cart-mules pulling 90 carts, and 95 wagon-mules pulling 20
larger wagons . . .

Mobile Artillery

Leo also mentions artillery devices. The fact that they revolved at both ends or in
a circular fashion makes it almost certain that these alakatia were small traction
(rope-pulled) trebuchets. They were probably pole-frame models that could be
transported in wagons, quickly assembled, and operated by one or a few soldiers,
much as depicted in the illustrated Madrid Skylitzes manuscript, whee we see
three men operating a smallish rope-pulled trebuchet (Dennis, 1999, Byzantine
Heavy Artillery; the Madrid Skylitzes illustration is featured on on the cover of Leo
Diaconus, trans. Talbot and Sullivan, 2005).

Unit Sizes and Battle Formations in AD 907

Hollywood movies, with their crazed melees, have distorted our understanding of
all modes of warfare. Especially they distort the realities of the warfare in the
period before the gun. We shall therefore look at East Roman formations in some

In both cavalry and infantry, unit sizes (bandon, plural banda, ‘regiments’) could
range from 200 to 400 men. But the theory said that a cavalry bandon had 300
men: 180 lancers and 120 archers, six lancers for every four horse-archers,

organized in six allaghia or “winglets”, each of 50 men. The infantry bandon

officially had 256 men: a heavy infantry bandon comprised 192 spearmen
(skutatoi) and 64 archers (ratio 3:1 spearmen: bowmen), organized in 16 subunits
of 16 men each. Other units were typically all one type, i.e. 256 foot-archers in a
light infantry bandon or ‘arrow regiment’ and 256 spearmen in a guards-infantry
regiment or ‘spear bandon’ (Heath Armies 1979: 4).

In Leo’s Taktika, the Thematic (provincial) cavalry are formed up five deep: the
first two ranks were lancers, then two ranks of archers (40%) and finally another
rank of lancers (one bandon = six allaghiai = six x 10 files of five men = 300). In
earlier centuries, the Tagmata (the elite metropolitan regiments)(*) had drawn up
in formations 4-men deep and the thematic cavalry 8-men deep, with lancers in
front and horse archers behind.

Thus the front line of a Tagmatic (central elite) unit if formed of 300 men in four
ranks, was 75 horsemen wide (when four deep: 300/4 =75). The Thematic cavalry
drew up in deeper lines: if formed in ranks five-deep, a bandon was 60 horsemen
wide (300 / 5 = 60).

(*) The Tagmata or standing central regiments, based in and around

Constantinople, were created by emperor Constantine V in the 760s. The
cavalry element (there were also infantry Tagmata) originally consisted of
three regiments or brigades: the Scholae, Excubitors (Exkoubitoi,
“Sentinels”) and the Watch (Vigla). A fourth, the Hicanati (Hikanatoi, “the
Able Ones” or “Worthies”), was added in 810 by emperor Nicephorus I. A
fifth brigade, the Immortals (Athanatoi), who were cataphracts or super-
heavy cavalry, were recruited by emperor John I Tzimiskes, 969-76. Each
had an enrolment of 4,000 men (Treadgold, Army pp. 36, 66; D’Amato 2007
for the equipment of the Hikanatoi).

Example One: a mixed army of 18,000 men

The Rhomaioi preferred to assemble their main force in depth – two, and later,
three lines. This enabled the delivery of successive shocks in battle and
discouraged attacks from the rear.
Let us imagine an army of 18,000 men of whom 12,000 are infantry. Let us
imagine again that half the infantry units (6,000 men in about 23 banda) are
allocated to the front line. Further we will imagine a fairly modest density of eight
files, which means ranks of 32 (256 men per bandon = 8 ranks x 32 files). Packed
very tightly into a shield-wall formation (half a metre per man), an infantry
bandon of this depth would be just 16 metres wide.
Now we also imagine that two metres are left between each of the 23 banda,
e.g. for returning cavalry to ride through. This line of infantry units will have a
front of about 410 metres [23 x 16 = 368 metres pus 42 between units = total
To complete the picture, we put cavalry on either side of this first line (two lots
of 1,000 men: left and right); and on either side of the second line (two lots of
1,000: left and right); while the third line is a small all-cavalry line (2,000 men).
Now 2,000 horsemen on either flank of the front line will be 400 horsemen wide if
formed up five-deep (2,000/5 = 400). Let us imagine they are tightly packed, i.e.
just two metres per horse. This gives us 800 metres. We add that to the infantry
front, for a combined front of about 1.2 kilometres.

Example Two: a large all-cavalry army of 25,000

There would be about 83 units in a very large all-cavalry expeditionary army of

25,000. Assuming that as many as 5,000 men would be held aside as flank-guards
and reserves, the main body of such an army would total 20,000 horsemen.

With 67 units deployed (20,000/300 = 67 banda), each of the three lines might
comprise 22 units (67/3 = 22). With each Tagmata unit presenting a 75-horse
front, we have a line extending for 1,650 horse-widths (75 x 22 = 1,650). Formed
up loosely—allowing three metres per man (*)—the army’s battle front would
have extended for up to five kilometres (1,650 x 3 = 4,950m). In practice, most
units would be packed deeper, producing a narrower front.(**) But in any case,
one is looking at a front of several kilometres.
[My calculations broadly based on data in Heath 1976; also Hyland p.29 and
McGeer’s analysis of later 10th century practice.]

(*) Cavalry sometimes formed up so densely that there was only about one
metre or 1.5 metres per horse, i.e. with stirrup touching stirrup (Hyland
1994: 33).

(**) For comparison, under emperor Manuel Comnenus, in the 1150s, when
on the march, the army extended for some "16 km" (“10 miles”: Baynes
p.73). Dividing by a half, to allow for a three-line battle-formation (3-2-1:
50% in the front line), its front when formed up might have extended for up
to eight km. In practice, to allow for the loose array of the march and the
tighter formation when formed for battle, we should say probably more like
four km. And in the middle period, before Manuel's time, i.e. in AD 950-
1050, armies were generally larger.


For a longer discussion of this topic, see O’Rourke 2009.

The ships of the Byzantine navy were mainly war-galleys generically called
dromons or ‘dromonds’, meaning in Greek ‘racers’, ‘runners’, ‘couriers’ (Gk
dromein, ‘to run’). This term had appeared already in the sixth century historian
Procopius (fl. AD 550).

In Antiquity war-galleys had relied on the tactic of ramming, for which speed was
more crucial. In contrast the New-Roman or medieval Greek dromons were fire-
shooters [Greek Fire] and marine-carriers [platforms for archers].
Greek Fire was a liquid, probably distilled petroleum, projected from siphons or
pump-jets through a nozzle or nozzles that were either fixed in brass figureheads
on ships or manipulated to turn in various directions.

The main or default propulsion was the use of oars, but supplemented or replaced
by a sail or sails when conditions allowed. The largest dromons sometimes had
three lateen sails but more usually two (Pryor & Jeffreys: Dromon p.448). Good
illustrations can be found in the Time-Life book, 1989 (photograph of a scale
model), in Gardiner 2004, and in Pryor & Jeffreys.

The maximum speed of a dromon was perhaps 10 knots or 18 km/h: 300 metres
per minute; but this was the ‘fighting dash’ that rowers could maintain for no
more than about 20 minutes (Pryor 1988: 71).
Pryor & Jeffreys p.449 state that the average routine speed of a standard
dromon under oars in all conditions was probably around four knots [7 km/h];
Makris’ says “five” knots.

Today’s small Boeing 737 twin-jet airliner is up to 36 m long, or 31.1 m in the case
of the 500 series, and its fuselage is 3.8-3.5 m wide – very near the dimensions of
the early medieval galley.

By the ‘Macedonian Age’ (from the late 800s), the term dromõn had become a

generic for any war galley, big or small, that could take its place in the line of
battle. By the 10th century, the standard Byzantine war galley was a bireme: two
banks of oars on either side. Thus we may speak of the pure, non-horse-
transporting narrow large galley (4 x 25) as the “dromon proper”.
There were also wide-bodied, or wider-bodied, galleys called chelandia used for
transporting war-horses, or originally designed for transporting horses.
“Chelandion”, plural chelandia, means simply “eel-shaped thing”, i.e. any long
thin vessel (from the Gk kheli, egkhelys, ‘eel’) (Pryor & Jeffreys pp.192, 411 etc).

The Ousiako—called (plural) chelandia ousiaka in AD 949—used to be considered

a type of vessel. The current thinking is that an ousia was not a type of ship but
rather just a reference to the standard complement of 108* (or 110) crew for a
warship. Thus a chelandion ousiako took its name from one company or Ousia
(‘entity, unit, complement’) (Toynbee 1973: 332; Pryor in Gardiner 2004: 103;
Pryor & Jeffreys 2006: 255, 450 etc).
So chelandion ousiako was simply another name for the smaller type of bireme
(two-banked) galley or dromon: two sets of 25 oars on both sides of the ship, one
man for each oar. The lower rank rowed only, while the upper rank would either
row or disengage to fight when required. Adding 30 or more non-rowers, i.e.
siphon operators (Greek Fire), a trumpeter, helmsmen, bow-hands, servants,
aides and the captains (two per ship), the total crew could come to 130 or more.
Here we assume zero marines on board.

The Pamphylos, in 949 called (plural:) chelandia pamphyla, likewise used to be

regarded as the name of type of ship: a fast two-banker, with a crew of between
120-160 (or 120-150).* More recently Pryor & Jeffreys, Dromon p. 191 ff and 260,
have argued that pamphyloi were so-named because they were crewed by picked
rowers, rather than being a specific type of vessel. They note that it was not
specified how many of the 130 or 160 men were oarsmen and how many were
non-rowing marines.
The figures for oarsmen range from 100 to 110 (i.e. around 108 men), and 120
or 130 to 160 for total crews. The difference was represented by officers,
helmsmen and soldiers or marines.

(*) Crews totalling 152—108 oarsmen [four banks of 27 oars], 36 marines,

and eight other non-rowers: four helmsmen [operating two steering oars:
two per oar], two ship’s boys and two masters—are known from the better-
documented Franco-Sicilian (Angevin) galleys of the late 1200s. They of
course were not equipped with Greek Fire.

The chelandia were able to be used as horse-transports, or at least they were

originally designed as transports and afterwards also used in battle or evolved to
become war-galleys (Pryor & Jeffreys 2006, pp. 166–169, 188–192, 322–325, 449.
Thus it appears that a chelandion was not as slim or as fast as a dromon proper.
Probably they had more depth in the hold and were wider in the beam, i.e. width
at widest point.* They were emulated in the Latin West and in the Muslim world,
in both roles, as early as the ninth century (Dromon pp.325, 449 etc).
Describing the Cretan expedition of 961, Leo says that “he [the Byzantine
commander Nicephorus Phocas] had brought ramps with him [to Crete] on the
transport ships and thus transferred the army, fully armed and mounted, from the
seas to dry land” (Leo Diac. I:3).

(*) The beam at the wale [highpoint of the hull] was up to five metres in
Italian horse-transporter galleys of the 13th Century (Gardiner 2004: 115).

The largest dromon crew known is 300: 230 ships-crew and 70 marines. There
were at least 200 rowers manning four banks of 25 oars, i.e. two rowers per oar,
and up to 30 non-rowers, i.e. siphon operators, a trumpeter, helmsmen, bow-
hands, servants, aides and the captains (two per ship). Adding 70 marines, we
have a total crew of 300.
On another hypothesis, the banks each comprised 27 oars, as in the 13th

Century. The bottom banks had just one rower [27 x 2 x 1 rower = 54 rowers],
while the upper banks were allocated three men per oar [27 x 2 x 3 rowers = 162]
(Hocker, in Gardiner 204: 94-95). Total: 216 rowers or two ousia. Adding 70
marines and 14 other non-rowers, i.e. a trumpeter, helmsmen, servants, aides
and the captains (two per ship) etc, we have a total crew of 300 in a non-Greek-
Fire armed vessel.

There were also smaller monoremes, i.e. with just 25 oarsmen on either side,
which were fast and light ships used for scouting. These latter were called ghalaía
or galeia (plural galeai: possibly meaning ‘cat-fish’), whence comes our word
‘galley’ (Toynbee 1973: 332; Pryor in Gardiner 2004: 102, 105, 106).

Marines, Soldiers and Armed Oarsmen

Both our best sources, emperor Leo VI, fl. 900 and Nikephoros Ouranos, fl. 995,
make clear that the rowers also doubled as soldiers, or at least that 150 of the
200 rowers on the large type of dromon should be able to fight (Dromon p.255).
The Naumachica of Leo VI, d. 912, describing “very large” dromons with 200
men, says that “50 are oarsmen at the lower level, while 150 armed men are
stationed above, ready to do battle with the enemy” (quoted in Gardiner 2004:
142). We also hear of crews totalling 300. This does not mean there were extra
oars to be rowed. There were still only four banks of 25 oars (25 x 2 x 2 = 100).
The bottom two banks of 25 oars were rowed by 50 unarmed men (one man per
oar); while in the upper banks there were three armed rowers per oar (150 men).
The remaining 100+ men were marines, fire-siphoners, helmsmen and officers (or
so says Hocker, in Gardiner 204: 94-95).

In the case of the 949 expedition to Crete, we can perhaps calculate the number
of fighters per ship using emperor Constantine VII’s enumeration of the
equipment carried by a dromon of the central Imperial fleet (Gk basilikon
ploimon): De cer. of Constantine VII, cited by Heath 1976: 13; Dromon pp.285,
We assume here that the ship is a 4 x 25 bank dromon (100 oarsmen).
Counting the mail hauberks (22 for those fighting at the bow, at and above the
fire-siphon); the padded surcoats (50: presumably all for oarsmen-fighters, those
manning the top banks); and the lamellar corselets (70: one per marine), it would
seem that at least 142 men, or over 3/4 of the ship’s complement of about 180,
were expected to fight in Constantine’s time.
The picture becomes less clare when we look at the other arms and
equiopment. Only 100 shields, 100 swords and 90 helmets were supplied,
indicating that close-in fighting was not undertaken by everyone on board. We
might guess that the shields were allocated to the marines (70), bow-fighters (22)
and officers (8). If so, then the 50 oarsmen-fighters probably fought without shield
or helmet, protected only by a padded surcoat (bambakion). The bambakion,
along with a thick felt turban, was the normal body-armour of land infantry at this

It is not clear who used the “50” bows and “10,000” arrows (200 per bowman).
The arrows would be fired while the ship was still being rowed, indeed precisely
when it was charging to engage. So we may guess that the marines fired them,
rather than the top-bank rowers. One imagines the latter would have used the
javelins and heavy pikes.
As against this, Leo and Nikephoros Ouranos state that on a larger dromon the
oarsmen of both upper and lower oar-banks (or 150 of them) were all soldiers
(stratiotai), but only those above deck (100 men) were armed as kataphrakatoi,
i.e. wearing mail corselets called lorikia and/or cuirasses of lamellar armour called
klibania. By implication the marines may have been light-armed archers.

Armament of Ships

Greek Fire, the napalm of the Middle Ages, was used for about 500 years: from AD

673 to about 1185. The last mention I have seen comes in 1173 in the aftermath
of the anti-Venetian pogroms, when Kinnamos says that the Byzantine fleet that
pursued fleeing Venetian ships across the Aegean was equipped with it. Then
after 1185 the navy was run down and effectively disbanded. The weapon was not
deployed in 1203-04 against the Venetians and Franks when they besieged
‘Greek Fire’ is the Western term: the East Romans called it “wet fire” or “liquid
fire” (hygron pyr), “sea fire” (pyr thalassion) and “processed” or “artificial fire”
(pyr skevaston) [Theophanes, Chronicle: AM 6164, 6218, AM 6305 etc].

In the bow was the calcar or ‘trampler-down’, a long iron or iron-clad spur or beak,
6.6 m long in Angevin-Sicilian galleys of the 1200s. It was used primarily as an
offensive oar-breaking weapon and secondarily by the ship’s marines as a
boarding ramp. The spur was not used as a ram to directly sink the enemy ship
but to ride up and over the oars of an enemy ship, smashing them and thus
disabling its power sources (Pryor 1992: 59; Dromon p.143). This contrasted with
Antiquity when ships had blunt rams low in their noses, designed to sink enemy
Further back there were raised wooden platforms or small “castles” (Gk
xylokastro, ‘timber forts’)—say one metre high—on both sides amidships, or
rather: slightly forward of amidships, with a clearway between them. They were
placed on either side of the foremast. From these ‘castles’ the marines could
shoot catapults, fire their crossbows and arrows, and throw pots of Greek Fire, etc
(Dromon pp.205, 235, 448 etc). In smaller single-masted ships, the castles may
have been located in the bow (Alertz, ‘Naval Architecture’, in Gardiner 2004: 156).
The large catapults or bow-ballistae were presumably fixed on swivel-mounts of
some sort so they could be aimed. The smaller cheirotoxobolistrai or “hand-bow-
ballistae” were apparently a type of crossbow (Dromon pp.380 ff).


Naval tactics are not much discussed in the chronicles and other sources. It is
clear, however, that the standard or default formation was the line abreast in a
shallow, crescent-moon semi-circle. The stronger and larger dromons were placed
in the middle of the line. Lines of two or four deep were usual in Antiquity
(Gardiner 2004: 59); but what the practice was in AD 950, we do not know.
One of the classic battle tactics was to disorganise an enemy’s formation by
feigning flight until the enemy’s ships in pursuit became strung out. Then further
reinforcements would be sent in, or the line would turn around in formation and
overwhelm the disorganized enemy ships one by one (Dromon p.400).
The initial phase would be a missile exchange at a distance. First they would
fire the large catapults, then crossbows, ordinary bows and finally javelins. As
noted, in the Cretan expedition of 949, some ships carried 20 crossbows or ‘hand-
held bow-ballistae’, 50 bows, and 100 javelins.
Greek Fire had a limited range and required both calm conditions and a
following wind. As we have noted, the spur in the ship’s bow was not designed to
puncture a hull and sink an enemy ship but rather to destroy its motive power by
smashing its oars. Thus, rather than manoeuvering to obtain a position to ram
and sink as in Antiquity, in Byzantine times the aim was to degrade an enemy
ship’s ability to resist. Then it could be grappled, boarded and captured. It was
hand-to-hand combat with pike and sword that finally decided the outcome
(Dromon pp.384, 403 etc).

Fleet Sizes

As early as 852-53—before the navy was enlarged—Byzantium was able to deploy

three separate fleets totalling "300" vessels for a major naval attack on the
coastal towns and forts of Muslim (Abbasid) Palestine and Egypt. This would have
included a large number of requisitioned private ships, any probably skiff-sized. Of
the 300, only “100” were (Arabic:) marakib or larger galleys (Norwich 1991: 57;
Dromon p.47, citing the Arab writer al-Tabari).

Again in 859 the emperor sent a large imperial fleet of “300” ships: Ar.
shalandiyyat, Gk: chelandia: large ‘combat-transport’ galleys, under Constantine
Kontomytes or Contomites to aid his subjects in Sicily. The army landed, but was
severely defeated by Abbas’s Sicilian Arabs, who marched from Panormos
(Palermo). Then the Muslims defeated the Greek fleet off Syracuse. The
Byzantines are supposed to have lost “more than 100” ships (Rodriquez; also
Ahmad p.13).

As with the army, there was a central force, the Imperial Fleet, supplemented by
provincial fleets maintained by the several maritime Themes or regional
Archival documents quoted in the De Ceremoniis of emperor Constantine VII,
acc. 945, indicate that in AD 911 the navy had about 20,000 oarsmen and 4,000
marines in the central Imperial Fleet and about 14,000 oarsmen in the Themes
(total oarsmen: “34,200”: Treadgold 1995: 67; Haldon in Harris 2005: 75). To
produce a guesstimate of the total number of ships, let us imagine that one-sixth
of the rowers manned small 50-oar galleys (galaia), two-thirds manned the
common 100-oar types and one-sixth again rowed in the large-crew types (150
oarsmen per 100 oars). This give us 114 galaiai, 228 normal dromons and 38
heavy dromons for a total of ‘380’.

Treadgold proposes that the Navy probably deployed a maximum of about 300
major ships during the 9th and 10th centuries (1995: 85 note 94). This may indicate
that there were few ships of the largest type, or more likely that in specific
campaigns some civilian vessels were requisitioned and converted to fighting

Nikephoros Phocas’s successful Cretan expedition of AD 960-61 was said to have

comprised a most unlikely “3,308” (sic!) vessels of all sizes, including troopships,
horse-transporters and supply boats. Treadgold 1995: 85n and 1997: 495 reads
this as “307 ships” supported by “hundreds” of small craft.
The earlier Cretan expeditions of 911 and 949 are stated to have numbered
fewer than 200 ships. The sources are somewhat unclear about the number of
fighting men (marines and land-soldiers) in the 949 expedition, but they totalled
at least 10,097 (4,697 marines and 5,400 from the Tagmata and Themes: Whittow
p. 186). If we use 70 marines per ship as an average, transporting them would
have required 144 ships. Allowing for the escorts and transports that would have
to be added, “307” is credible.

The supposed ‘3,308’ sea craft included “1,000” combat vessels of all sizes, each
armed with Greek Fire: “siphonophores”, ‘pump-bearers’. Or Pryor and Jeffreys
say: 1,000 dromons, i.e. pure combat vessels [29% of the fleet]; 2,000 chelandia
(fighting-transports) also equipped with Greek Fire [60% of the fleet]; and 360
karabia or unarmed transports [11% of the fleet] in a total of “3,360” (Dromon
p.408). Warren Treadgold guesses that most of the ‘1,000’ siphonophores were
requisitioned private ships and boats converted to military purposes (the
“merchantmen” of Leo Diac. 65.20). And no doubt the non-combat vessels
included many pure sail-boats as well as oars-and-sails galleys.
Large bronze siphon-pumps were fixed in the prows of the siphonophores, and
in addition the marines used small cheirosiphona (“hand-pumps”) or hand-held
piston-siphons (Toynbee p.331; Partington p.15).

Number of Ships, Oarsmen and Marines in AD 900

Province or Fleet Main Base Number of Oarsmen Marines

Name ships

es: Note 1)

Imperial (central) Constantinopl 245 19,600 4,000

Fleet e [note 2] [formed in
AD 870]

Theme of the Attalia 72 5,710 1,000

[southern Asia Minor]

Theme of Samos Samos [in the 50 3,980 600

[created AD 844; or south-east
perhaps as late as Aegean]

Theme of the Mytilene on 33 2,610 400

[northern] Aegean Lesbos

Theme of Hellas [our Thebes 28 2,300 Nil [Note

eastern Greece] 3]

Totals 428 34,200 6,000

Adapted from Treadgold 1995: 67, 76, passim.

Note 1: Using the numbers of oarsmen, we calculate the number of ships by

assuming that three-quarters are 100-oar galleys and one-quarter are 50-oar

Note 2: Naval squadrons were posted in some of the non-maritime Themes.

For example the squadron stationed in Calabria seems to have had seven
ships in 929 (Runciman 1933/1975: 153, citing Ibn Adari).

Note 3: Whittow proposes that the Thematic troops of Hellas included 700

List of Naval Battles

-- 820 - Arabs defeat Franks? near Sardinia

-- 821 - Byzantine central imperial fleet defeats rebel provincial fleets during the
revolt of Thomas the Slav
-- 841 - Arabs defeat a Venetian squadron near Taranto
-- 849 - Ostia [near Rome] - Italian city-states vs Muslims
-- 853? - Byzantines defeat Syrians ?
-- 868 - Byzantines under Niketas Ooryphas destroy 2 Arab (Cretan) fleets near
Thrace and in the Gulf of Corinth
-- 880 - (1) Night Battle of Cephalonia - Byzantines under Nasar destroy Arab fleet
(2) Sicily: First Milazzo - Byzantines under Nasar destroy Arab fleet
-- 885 - Frisians defeat Vikings
-- 888 - Second Milazzo - Arabs defeat Byzantines
-- 908 - Battle in the Aegean Sea - Byzantines under Himerios defeat Arabs
-- 912 - Chios - Syrian-Cilician fleet defeats Byzantine squadron under Himerios
-- 923 – Byzantine victory off Lemnos
-- 931 – Byzantine fleet or squadron successfully attacks an Arab flotilla at
Fraxinet in Provence
-- 935 - Genoa was surprised and sacked by a fleet from Sicily and N Africa: “200”
(or 20) ships sent by the Fatimid (Tunisian) ruler Abû al Qâsim Muhammad.
But the Genoese fleet followed up the enemy and defeated them off
Sardinia near the island of Asinara.

-- 941 - Rus'-Byzantine War - Byzantine fleet under Theophanes destroys the

Kievan Rus' fleet under Igor near the Bosporus Strait: Greek Fire used
-- 956 – (1) Tunisian fleet destroyed by Christians near Mazara
(2) The fleet of the Cibyrrhaeots under Basil Hexamilites defeats the navy
of Tarsus off Lycia.
-- 958 - Tunisians vs Christians in Messina Strait
-- 962 - Italy: Arabs destroy a Byzantine fleet in the strait of Messina
-- 964 - Arab fleet destroys Byzantine fleet under Niketas near Calabria.
-- 966 - Spanish Arabs defeat Danish Vikings off what is now Portugal.

920-944: ROMANOS I Lekapenos

His father was an Armenian peasant who was rewarded for saving
Basil I’s life by being enrolled as a palace-guardsman (see 870-71
Romanos achieved the rank of strategos of the naval Samian Theme
before being appointed drungarios or admiral of the central imperial
fleet, i.e. head of the entire navy, from 912. Aged about 50 at
Norwich 1993: 160 assesses him as “a good emperor, perhaps even
a great one”.
Wife: Theodora, d. 922. Four sons and three daughters including
Helena, married (919) to Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. Romanos’s
illegitimate son Basil (fl. 975) in later life became the Grand
Chamberlain. Cf 976.

1. Peace in the East (under the treaty of 917).

2. Europe: The Bulgarians invade Thrace as far as the Dardanelles, where they
encamped opposite Lampsacus, across from the old Troy region of the northern
Troad (Runciman, History of the First Bulgarian Empire 1930, p.164).

3a. Zoe proposes to marry the senior army general Leo Phocas. Then, called in by
Theodore, the tutor of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, admiral Romanos
Lekapenos seizes control of Constantinople by trick and through his use of the
fleet (Treadgold 1997: 475). He slowly ousted Zoe from power. In 919 the nominal
emperor Constantine VII, aged 14 or 15, was married to Romanos’ daughter
Helena. Romanos will make himself co-emperor in 920 and gradually gain
precedence over the young Porphyrogenitus.

3b. Revolt by Leo Phocas, domestic of the Scholae. He is captured in Bithynia and
blinded, although apparently not on Romanus’s orders (Norwich 1993: 136).

919-36: Germany: Henry I, first “Saxon” emperor. German heavy cavalry

fought the horse-archers of the Magyars or Hungarians in what is now
eastern Austria. See 955.

920: Ifriqiya/Tunisia: Ubayd Allah ‘al-Mahdi’ Billah a.k.a. Said ibn Husayn
was the founder of the Fatimid dynasty, the only major Shi’ite caliphate in
medieval Islam. He established Fatimid rule throughout much of North
Africa. ‘Ubaydallah took up residence (920) at the newly established
capital of his empire, Al-Mahdiyyah, which he founded on the Tunisian
coast 16 miles or 25 km south-east of Al-Qayrawan, and which he named
after himself.

Italy: Raising taxes to pay the Arabs causes unrest; the strategos Muzalon is killed

(921) in an uprising.

1. The former admiral of the fleet, Romanos, aged about 50, was named Caesar
and then on 17 December 820 was crowned by Patriarch Nicholas as co-emperor
with Constantine VII, aged 15. Nicholas served as principal adviser to the
government in foreign affairs.

2. The Serbs, as allies of Rhomaniya/Byzantium, engaged the Bulgarians. The

Bulgarians captured the pro-Byzantine Serbian prince Zacharias (Runciman p.87).

Barcelona-France-Provence: Abdul Rahman, uncle of Abdul Rahman III,

ruler of al-Andalus, crosses the Pyrenees into France and reaches
Toulouse. In the same year ‘pirates’ (slavers) from the local Muslim “pirate
base” (raiding colony) of Fraxinet attack the villages of Marseilles, Aix and
Piedmont in the Kingdom of Provence (Lebling 2009).

920 or 921:
Italy: Revolt in Calabria against the new strategus John Muzalon (also called
Bizalon in the sources), who is killed. The cause was probably resentment at high
taxation, needed to pay off the Saracens of Sicily (Runciman p.187).
Muzalon took an unpopular decision when he increased taxes to be able to pay
the Arab tribute. The result was a revolt in which he was assassinated, after the
accession of Romanos I Lecapenos, possibly between 921 and 922. The
insurrectionists requested aid from Landulf III of Capua. See below under 921:
revolt in Apulia.

Growth of ‘Bogomilism’ in the Balkans: anti-orthodox para-Christian dualism . . .

1. Thrace: A Bulgarian army led by Symeon descends to the walls of
Constantinople and “overruns” the European bank of the Bosphorus (Runciman
1963: 88). The Bulgarians defeat a Romanian (‘Greek’) counter-attack. See 922.
Simeon's forces appeared before Constantinople in 921; they demanded in vain
the deposition of Romanos but succeeded in capturing Adrianople (Wikipedia,
2009, ‘Symeon’).

2. Italy: Major revolt in East-Roman Apulia. The Lombard-Italians of Capua enter

the region, kill the strategos and take control. Constantinople will regain control
by 928 or earlier. Cf 925.
As Rodriquez relates (also Kreutz p.68), in April 921, Ursileo or Orseolo, the
strategos of Longobardia, was killed at Ascoli during a battle with the Lombard
princes, Landulf and his brother, who arrived to aid a revolt by the mainly
‘Lombard’ or Romance-speaking inhabitants of Byzantine Apulia. After taking
charge of Ascoli, Landulf of Capua and Benevento and his brother Atenulf
extended their rule to all the region in an act of express revolt against imperial
“Anno 921. Interiit Ursileo Stratigo in proelio de Asculo mense Aprilis et
apprehendit Pandulphum Apuleo” (Lupus) – ‘The strategos Ursileo dies [lit. ‘has
died’] in battle at Ascoli in April and he seizes/captures Pandulf [sic: Landulf?] in
Apulia.’ – It is not clear who this ‘Pandulf’ was – possibly the son of the prince of
Benevento - Landulf junior - who became a hostage in Constantinople.
A key source is the letters of the patriarch Nicholas Mystikos who in these years
maintained an active correspondence with several prominent figures in Italy,
including Landulf of Benevento. The insurrectionists hurried to send letters to
Constantinople blaming the dead strategos and reaffirming their wish to stay loyal
to Byzantium on condition that they were not punished and Landulf was named as
the new governor of Longobardia. Knowing of the dangers involved, the Byzantine
court responded with caution to these proposals. Although the exact details are
not known, the negotiations are documented from 925 in official documents from

Capua. The disappearance of the East-Roman titles patrikios and anthypatos that
the prince had previously borne was an unequivocal sign of the rupturing of
relations. We also know that Landulf finally withdrew from Apulia, because he
returned to invade it few years later.

Romanus planned an Italian expedition: it is recorded that he asked (921) the

soldiers of the Peloponnesus Theme to pay five nomismata each, or half that if
they were very poor, to be excused from the campaign. This probably indicates
that they were not highly thought of as troops (Treadgold 1997: 549).

Morocco: Arriving from Tunisia, the Fatimids, a clan of Ismaili Shi’ites, take
control of Fez.

Revolt by local Slavs in Byzantine Greece: this potentially opens the Peloponnese
to invasion by Bulgaria.

1. Further Bulgarian attack on Constantinople. A Byzantine counter-attack is
defeated. The Romanian (‘Greek’) force consisted of the Tagmata under Pothus
Argyrus, the domestic of the Scholae, and the imperial marines under Alexius
Mousele, drungary or admiral of the fleet (Treadgold, State p. 478).
The Bulgarians were victorious at Pegae or Pigae, north-west of the capital, and
burned much of the Golden Horn and seized Bizye, which is modern Vize in
eastern Thrace. Romanos sent troops under the commander Potas (Pothos)
Argirus and the admiral of the navy Alexios Musele to face the Bulgarians
(Scylitzes, Historia. 2, 356-357). The battle took place at Pigae. The initial
Bulgarian blow was irresistible, and the Byzantine commanders were the first to
flee. Musele drowned in a desperate attempt to reach a ship. Most of the
Byzantine soldiers and sailors were killed, drowned or captured. —Runciman, A
History of the First Bulgarian Empire, pp. 164-165, citing the Vita S. Mariae

2. Calabria: African and Sicilian Arabs resume their raids on Byzantine Calabria.
The incursion was launched from Mahdiya (eastern Tunisia) in the summer of
310/922. With a fleet of 20 galleys, the Fatimid officer Masud bin Ghalib al-Wusuli
took possession of the fortress of St. Agatha. —Runciman p. 189; also; accessed 2009.

3. Armenia: The caliph recognises Ashot II of Dvin as “king of kings”

(shahanshah), i.e. as the leading prince among the Armenian princes. There was a
rival Armenian king with his seat at Vaspurakan, south of Lake Van. Cf 961.
The Arabs had been pinned back behind the Taurus and Anti-Taurus,
encouraging the Armenians to switch their allegiance from the Caliphate to the
Empire, in whose service they entered in increasing numbers (Whittow 1996:

This period saw many raids on Byzantine south Italy – by the Magyars and Arabs.
There was scarcely a year that Calabria was not raided (cf 924-25: St Agata and
The Magyars (often allied to Berengar, the Frankish ‘emperor’ of N Italy)
penetrated into southern Italy in 922, 927 and 947. This resulted from the politics
of Franko-Lombard-Papal northern Italy, the Magyars being called in to aid one
side or other; they then set off on plundering raids. In 927 they even entered
Rome, called there by Pope John X (NCMH 2000: 543).
From 917-925, the Magyars raided through Basle, Alsace, Burgundy, Saxony,
and Provence. In 947, they raided France as far west as Reims and down through
Italy as far as Otranto in the south. Cf 934.


1. Eastern frontier: General John Kourkouas attacks rebels in Chaldia, the

Trebizond region. – As Drungarios tes Viglas, commander of the Tagma of the
Watch, the ethnic Armenian John Kourkuas or Curcuas defeated a rebellion in the
Chaldian theme, and later the same year was promoted to the office of the
domestikos ton scholon: generalissimo or army commander in chief. The
Domestic of the Scholae (domestikos ton scholon) had by now displaced the
Strategos of the Anatolikon theme as the most senior military officer. Norwich
1993: 149 very justly calls Kourkouas “one of the most brilliant generals that
Byzantium was ever to produce”.
John’s brother Theophilus became Strategos of the Chaldian theme and
therefore general in charge of the northern section of the front. Cf 923, 926.

2. Thrace: Bulgarian invasion of Thrace along the Maritza River: Symeon briefly
re-captures Adrianople by bribery; but, when he departs to deal with a Serbian
incursion in the west, leaving a garrison in charge, the East-Romans return and
recover the city. Cf 925.

3. NE Aegean: The Muslim fleet of Rasiq al-Wardami or Leo of (Syrian) Tripoli raids
into the Aegean but near Lemnos the imperial navy soundly defeats him,
destroying his fleet (Treadgold, State p.478). Runciman 1963: 135 calls this a
“sensational” victory, and Pryor & Jeffreys, p.385, list it as as one of the most
notable naval victories achieved by the empire.

4. d. al-Tabari, greatest of the Muslim historians.

1. Tsar Symeon - finally: after 30 years on the throne of Bulgaria (!) - makes an
Arab alliance, with al-Mahdi, the Fatimid Caliph of Ifriqiya [our Morocco-Tunisia-
Libya], to attack the East Roman capital; but the threat is undercut by Romanic
gold, diplomacy and a peace treaty. Byzantine money persuades al-Mahdi to
switch sides. Symeon advances (924) against Byzantium not knowing that the
Fatimids have decided not to support him.
The treaty with Africa meant that Romanian (‘Greek’) Calabria was very briefly
left in peace (until 925).

2. The Serbs reject Bulgarian vassalage and declare for Byzantium. Cf 925, 927.

1. The Balkans: With the false expectation of aid from the Fatimids of Africa, a
large Bulgarian army ravages Macedonia and Thrace and camps before
Constantinople. Soon learning that the Africans will not assist him, Symeon seeks
an interview with Romanos. Although weaker militarily, the Byzantine emperor (in
the Greek sources) arrogantly lectures the Bulgarian Tsar about Christian piety. A
truce is struck. Part of the deal involved Symeon recognizing Romanus’s imperial
status; Symeon contented himself with the title ‘emperor of the Bulgarians’
(Jeffreys 2006: 352).

The interview took place on a landing stage on the Golden Horn on 9 September
924 (others give 19 September 923). As described by Theophanes, “Symeon
arrived there . . . bringing with him a host divided into many units, some with
golden shields and spears, others with silver shields and spears, equipped with
weapons of every hue and all armoured in iron. Bearing Symeon among them
they acclaimed him emperor in the language of the Romans [i.e. Greek]. All of the
senatorial council were standing on the walls looking down on the proceedings.”
Romanus is said to spoken thus to Symeon: “Embrace peace, love harmony, so
that you may live a peaceful, bloodless and untroubled life, and so that Christians
may have a break from misfortunes and stop the killing of Christians. For it is not
right for them to raise arms against co-religionists.”

- Symeon Logothete [Georgius Monachus Continuatus], ed. Bekker, pp. 898-901,

excerpted by Stephenson:; accessed 2009.

2. Dalmatia: Papal legates call a Council at Spalato (Split) (Fine p.267). The pope
wrote to condemn the use of the Slavonic liturgy. This brought Slavic “Illyricum”
under Rome’s influence … Constantinople chose not to, or was unable to,

3. Romanos crowns his younger sons Constantine and Stephen co-emperors.

In 924 an army or band of Magyars penetrated west across Italy and

through the St Bernard Pass into Provence and southern France, reaching
as far as the Pyrenees (Bakay, Hungary’ in NCMH 2000: 543). At this time
there was a Muslim raiding colony long established in Provence at St
Tropex (see 931 below).

Diplomacy from 924

The style of address recommended in Constantine’s VII’s De Cer. runs thus: “To
the God-appointed prince (archon*) of Bulgaria: “In the name of Father and of the
Son and of the Holy Spirit, our one and sole true God: [from] Constantine and
Romanos, Emperors of the Romans, whose faith is in God, to our desired spiritual
son (pneumatikon teknon), the God-appointed Prince or Lord (archon) of the most
Christian people (ethnos) of the Bulgarians.” Later the formulation became:
“Constantine and Romanos, pious Autocrats, Emperors of the Romans in Christ
who is God, to our desired spiritual son, the lord [Name] Emperor (basileus)* of

(*) Tsar Symeon, c. 894-927, was addressed frequently as spiritual brother

(pneumatikos adelphos) by Romanos I Lekapenos in letters drafted by the
protasekretis Theodore Daphnopates. But it was a long time before the
Byzantines were ready to call the Bulgarian Tsar basileus (‘emperor’) rather then
archon (‘ruler’).

924: North Italy: The Magyars laid Lombardy waste. They burnt Pavia itself
in 924 and only left Italy to pass over the Alps and be exterminated by
pestilence in Languedoc.

Italy: Saracens capture Sant’Agata in Calabria: east of Reggio (924). Saracen raids
continue throughout Calabria and in Apulia (925). The towns in the Terra
d’Otranto – the lower heel - suffer several attacks. On 4 July 925, the inland town
of Oria, between Taranto and Brindisi, is attacked by a Saracen force led by Ja'far
ibn 'Ubaid who massacres most of the town’s Christian and Jewish male
Jafar bin Ubaid, known as Suluk (‘the Traveller’ [to God]), led this expedition,
with Palermo as his starting point. He captured Bruzzano [SE of Reggio Calabria]
and Oria and returned to Mahdiya with vast riches. The resounding success of this
campaign had the effect of inducing the Byzantines to conclude a treaty with the
Fatimids. —; accessed
“924: [actually 925] Capta est Oria à Sarracenis mense Iulij, et interfecerunt
cunctas mulieres; reliquos verò deduxerunt in Africam cunctos venundantes.” –
‘Oria is taken by the Saracens in July, and they kill all the women; the rest, to be
sure, they lead away to Africa, all being sold [as slaves]’ (Lupus). See next.
At Oria the Arabs are said to have killed 6,000 able-bodied males and took
10,000 female captives (ibn ‘Adsari). A patrikios, possibly the strategos himself,
was captured and later ransomed.

One Apulian’s Fate

Italy: Shabbethai Donnolo, 913-82, a noted Jewish physician and astronomer, or

astrologer, was born at Oria, in the district of Otranto. In later life he became
physician to the catepan or Byzantine governor.
When Donnolo was 12 years old (925), an army of Fatimite* Muslims, led by
Abu Ahmad Ja'far ibn Ubaid, invaded Calabria and Apulia. As related in Donnolo's
autobiographic note, the town of Oria, east of Taranto, was sacked. "Ten wise and
pious rabbis", whose names are given, and numerous other Jews, were killed,
while a multitude of survivors, including himself, were taken captive. Of course
the vast majority of dead, captives and survivors were Christians.
His relatives were able to ransom Donnolo at Taranto – “[also] in the country
which is under Roman [Byzantine] government [malkhut Romi]”, which is to say:
not under the Lombards - , while the rest of his family was carried away to
Palermo and North Africa. —Quoted in Shmuel Shepkaru, Jewish Martyrs,
Cambridge University Press, 2006.

(*) Post-Aghlabid Sicily was governed by a Fatimid-appointed governor, Salim ibn

Asad ibn Rashid al-Kutami, from 917 to 937. The Fatimid overlord in Tunisia was
Ubaydallah “al-Mahdi”, ruling from the new city of al-Mahdia from 920.

Territory in 925

The empire of New Rome ruled from the boot of Italy, through the southern
Balkans and Greece, to Asia Minor.
There were 494 bishoprics in the empire in about 925, distributed as follows: 16
(4%) in Byzantine south Italy; 99 (20%) in the Balkans including Thrace and
Greece; 18 (4%) in the Aegean Islands; and 371 (75%) in Asia Minor (Browning

Sardinia remained nominally Byzantine but in practice was effectively

independent. All of Sicily was ruled by the Arabs, the Fatimids. The Bulgarian
Khanate or empire dominated the northern Balkans and was the enemy closest to
the imperial capital; but this border became a stable and peaceful one after the
death of Symeon in 927.
Asia Minor, as always, was the massive heart of the empire, as reflected in the
371 bishops mentioned above.
The Taurus and Anti-Taurus Mountains, in what is now SE Turkey, divided the
highlands of Byzantine Asia Minor from the lowlands of Abbasid Cilicia-Syria.

1. The Bulgarian truce fails. Evidently realising that Constantinople is
impregnable, Symeon decides on a new strategy of diplomatic-political moves. At
around this time, before mid-925 at any rate, he declares himself "Basileus [Tsar]
of the Bulgarians and the Romans [Byzantines]". It may be that Symeon had been
using the title since the curious coronation of 913 (Fine 1991: 154-55). But 925 is
the date of Romanos’s reply to a letter from Symeon, rejecting the latter’s claim
to the imperial style.* But the papacy recognised Symeon’s imperial title in 926
(Runciman, Romanus p.94). Cf 926.

(*) Romanus wrote to Symeon sarcastically asking why, in addition to

‘Emperor of the Romans’, Symeon does not also call himself Lord of the
Whole World or Emir of the Saracens? He adds that he, Romanus, has
better claim to the title ‘Emperor of the Bulgarians’ than Symeon
(Obolensky 1971: 151).

2. Serbia revolts against Bulgaria. The Serbs defeat Symeon's generals and send
their heads as a gift, a sign of lotalty, to emperor Romanus (Runciman 1963: 206).
See 926.

3. With the death of Patriarch Nicholas, the church falls totally under Romanus's


4. Romanus demands tribute from the Muslim frontier towns of the Euphrates; but
they refuse (see 926). In this year too, a prisoner exchange took place in which
the Muslims recovered 3,983 people according to Mas’udi.

5. Italy: The Saracens of Sicily and Africa resume their raids on peninsular Italy. A
large expedition led by Sabir (Shabir al-Fata) lands near Taranto (alternative date
927: see there) and captures the town.

In the Muslim Khalifate: d. al-Razi, Persian author of some 200 treatises on

medicine. Head of the hospital at the city of Rayy, now a suburb of modern
Teheran. The first to distinguish between measles and smallpox.


1. The NW Balkans: Tsar Symeon’s troops severely ravage Serbia and prepare to
attack the Croatians*: see 927. If we may believe our sources, Serbia remained “a
near wilderness” for about a decade; at any rate the Bulgarians ruled Serbia for
some seven years (Obolensky p.155; Runciman p.206).

(*) The first to bear the title King of Croatia, Tomislav of the Trpimirovi dynasty,
was crowned in 925. Tomislav, ‘rex Chroatorum’, will unite the Pannonian and
Dalmatian duchies and create a sizeable state.

3. Death of Patriarch Nicholas.

Frequent Arab raids on Calabria. Cf 926.
The naval strength of the Calabrian Theme in 929 was just seven ships (Heath,
Dark Ages 1976: 13).

Imperial letters: Theodore Daphnopate composed letters on behalf of the
emperor, 10 of which, written between 925 and 933, are extant: ed. & French tr.
Darrouzès and Westerink, 1978, pp. 30-141, epp. 1-10.
One of these 10 letters is to the Pope (ep. 1), one is to the Metropolitan of
Herakleia (ep. 2), a third is addressed to all metropolitans (ep. 3), and a fourth is
to the Emir of Egypt (ep. 4). Letters five, six and seven are all addressed to
Symeon, “eksousiatês of the Bulgarians” and “spiritual brother” (ep. 5), later
“archon [lord] of Bulgaria” and “spiritual brother” (epp. 6, 7).
-- Stephenson, ‘Daphnopate’, at; accessed


1. Tsar Symeon obtains recognition of his new imperial title from the pope in
Rome (Mladjov 1999*). See below, 926-27: Bulgarian patriarchate.
The Balkans: Symeon's troops invade and defeat Serbia. The country was
reduced, it is said, to “a wilderness”.

(*) Mladjov, Ian (1999): "Between Byzantium and Rome: Bulgaria and the
West in the Aftermath of the Photian Schism", Byzantine Studies/Études

Byzantines: 173–181.

2. The Arab Emir of Sicily, Salim ibn Asad ibn Rashid al-Kutami, (917-37), subjects
the maritime towns of southern Italy to Muslim tribute. The princes of Capua and
Salerno finally dropped their Imperial titles (“patricians”), signalling a final break
with Constantinople (Runciman 1963: 191). See 929 and 951. The Aegean too
was insecure, with the Muslims in control of Crete.

3. War in the East: Curcuas attacks into Mesopotamia. Baghdad declines to send
help to the Emir of Melitene. See next.

4. Italy: “Anno 926. comprehendit Michael Sclabus Sipontum mense Iulij.” (Lupus).
– ‘In July Michael Sclavus [the Byzantine commander] takes (seizes) Siponto’.

1. Mesopotamia: The imperial army under Kourkouas forces the emir of Melitene -
who Baghdad chooses not to aid - to recognise Romanos' suzerainty; Samosata is
sacked (Treadgold, State p.479). Cf 933-34.

Aided by his brother Theophilos and an Armenian contingent under Mleh (Melias
in Greek sources), the strategos of Lykandos, Kourkouas targeted Melitene
(modern Malatya), the centre of an emirate which had long been a thorn in
Byzantium's side. The Byzantine army successfully stormed the city. Although the
citadel held out, Kourkouas concluded a treaty by which the emir accepted
tributary status.

2. 926-927: Constantinople recognises and gives independence or “autocephaly”

to the Bulgarian Patriarchate at Ochrid.
Thus by 1000 there would be six patriarchs in the East: four ‘orthodox’ and two
Monophysite, namely: 1. orthodox Ochrid in medieval west Bulgaria: modern
Albania; 2. the 'Ecumenical' patriarch in Constantinople; 3. Antioch - after that city
was liberated from Muslim rule by the Byzantines in 965; and 4. Ani in
Monophysite Armenia. In addition there were two patriarchs under Muslim rule in
1000: 5. a monophysite "Coptic" archbishop in Fatimid Alexandria and 6. an
orthodox or “Melkite” archbishop in Fatimid Jerusalem. Cf 986.

Commanders* in Italy, as listed in J J Hofmann’s Lexicon Universale (1698):

Michael Schlavus [sic: Sclavus, ‘the Slav’**], AD 926. Imogalaptus [sic:
Theognosto Limnogalactos], AD 940. Platopodius or Platypodos [sic! – literally
“flat foot”], AD 947-55.

(*) Strategoi. Not at this time called catepans (Gk: katepanõ). That title
first appears ca. 970.

(**) Sclabus or Schlavus in Lupus’s Chronicle and Anon. Baren..

1a. The north-west: The Croatians under king Tomislav destroy the Bulgarian
army; death of tsar Symeon. Symeon’s son Peter makes peace with Byzantium,
an alliance that secured his marriage to princess Maria, grand-daughter of
Romanos I (Stephenson p.24)
Const. Por. in De Administrando Imperio (DAI) says that the Croatians
maintained "60,000" cavalry and "100,000" infantry (sic!). In truth, they probably
had more like 6,000 and 10,000. Their navy supposedly had up to 80 galleys and
100 ‘cutters’; again a vastly exaggerated figure (Runciman p.208; Fine 1991:

1b. Maria Lecapena was the first Romanic princess for many centuries to marry
abroad, although she was not a princess "born in the purple". The treaty of 927
reconfirmed the 904 treaty, that is, it recognised Bulgaria’s possession of
Macedonia (Fine 1991: 161).

As part of the settlement, the title of "Tsar" (emperor: Basileus) was supposed
to be recognised and Byzantium paid Bulgaria an annual tribute. Also future
Bulgarian ambassadors were to be given precedence over all others. But
Romanos, d. 944, would only call Peter "archon", ruler or prince; it was not until
Constantine succeeded that the term "Basileus" was used to refer to the
Bulgarian ruler (Runciman 1963: 100; Norwich p.147).
This ends what Runciman calls the empire's "greatest ordeal since the days
of the Saracen sieges (in the 700s)". Byzantium could now direct its energies to
the East. Peace lasted in the Balkans until 965 …

2. (Or in 928) Italy: Arabs attack Taranto (Runciman p.190). But at Otranto they
are laid low by a "pestilence". 927-57 (or 967): Fatimid rule over a deserted
Taranto …
“Fuit excidium Tarenti patratum, et perempti sunt omnes viriliter pugnando;
reliqui vero deportati sunt in Africam. Id factum est mense Augusti in festivitate
Sanctae Mariae” (Lupus). – ‘Taranto is sacked and all are killed manfully fighting:
the rest are taken to Africa; this took place in August on the feast of Holy Mary’
[15 August or 28 August Julian calendar = feast of the Assumption of Mary].

The Emir of Sicily, Salim ibn Asad ibn Rashid al-Kutami, led the attack,
accompanied by admiral Sabir [Shabir al-Fata], a Slavic-born ex-slave and eunuch
convert, with a fleet of more than 50 galleys. They proceeded to besiege Taranto.
On 15 August 928 (or 927) the fortress-port fell by assault and, according to the
Arab sources, more than 6,000 Christians perished and the survivors were
deported as slaves to Africa. It is said that Taranto remained uninhabited until the
Romanian (‘Greek’) re-conquest in 967 (Jules Gay, L'Italie meridionale, p.207).

Between 927 and 930, sailing from Sicily, Sabir undertook various attacks and
raids on Puglia, Calabria and Campania in southern Italy, even as far as Adria in
the Po delta. He conquered and plundered Grottole [a village near Matera],
Taranto and Otranto. He then blockaded the towns of Naples and Salerno until
they bought his departure with precious textiles [see 928]. Finally, in the Adriatic
Sabir fought a Byzantine squadron and plundered Termoli (on the coast about
one-third up). He returned via Sicily to Ifriqiya (Tunisia) with “12-18000” prisoners
(German edn of Wikipedia 2010 under Sabir).

3. fl. Constantine of Rhodes, or ‘the Rhodian’, poet. He was secretary to the

imperial chancellor Samonas in 908, and later served the emperors Leo VI and
Constantine VII. In the year 927 he was sent as envoy to the Bulgarian Tsar.
Author of the long verse-story, Description of [Constantinople’s] Church of the
Holy Apostles. Three of his poems were included in the Palatine Anthology, and
indeed he may have been its compiler. One of his works comprises wild,
‘sesquipedalian’ (polysyllabic) verses against the scholar and ambassador Leo
Choerosphactes or Choirosphaktes.

In addition to three religious epigrams (Anthologia Palatina XV 15-17) and satirical

poems on Leo Choirosphaktes (written in about 907) and on Theodore of
Paphlagonia (both with insulting words in the style of Aristophanes), he wrote an
apparently unfinished description of the seven wonders of Constantinople and the
no longer extant Church of the Holy Apostles. This comprises 981 twelve-syllable
lines dealing mainly with the architecture of the church, and is dedicated to
emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. He was a poet of only moderate gifts.

* * *

The vacuum in the Balkans after Symeon's death drew in a new set of steppes
people, the Magyars or Hungarians, and also the Rus from Kiev, now with a
land army and new ambitions (below: 934, 941 and 944).
The Magyars regularly raided south of the Danube. Indeed they penetrated
sometimes even as far as the walls of the imperial city (AD 934 and 959: see
there) and into northern Greece (936). The raids of the Magyars, however, while

they did great damage in Bulgaria, hardly affected the empire.

Cf Obolensky p.206: “ …[the Magyars] do not seem to have been interested in
settling in the Balkans and they were incapable of storming Byzantine cities. This
perhaps explains the comparative coolness with which the Byzantines reacted to
these raids: there is no sign in their medieval chronicles of the terror the Magyars
provoked in Western Christendom”.

927: Britain: The Anglo-Saxon king of Wessex annexes York on the death
of its last Norse king. This marks the beginning of what we may now call
the kingdom of England.

1. Major famine brought on by 120 (!)* days of damaging frost. The famine led to
“massive” mortality (Stahakopoulos 2008: 312). Many poor land-holders sold out
to large land-holders, prompting an imperial edict (934) to restore the status quo
(Treadgold 1997: 480; Rautman p.76).

(*) The present-day average is 25 per year


2. Serious East Roman-Arab conflicts on the eastern borders; the town of

Samosata briefly submits to Curcuas.
To deflect the pressure, the Caliphate directs a double raid into Asia Minor. John
Curcuas proceeds into Armenia, where the power of Greek Fire* alarmed the
inhabitants of Dvin (NE of Lake Van). Presumably this refers to pots of Greek fire
launched into the town from ballistas or trebuchets, or perhaps hand-siphons
large enough to plaster 12 men at one discharge (Toynbee 1973: 331, citing Ibn
al-Athir; cf Partington p.15).
Curcuas briefly occupied the town before withdrawing. He then (928)
campaigned in southern Armenia. Cf 932.

(*) Al-Athir says, which seems unlikely, that the liquid fire pump or
projector was operated by a single artificer (cited in Haldon 2006b, p.320).

Whittow 1996: 317 comments that this incursion, more than 500 kilometres from
the nearest imperial territory, was a far cry from the defensive-minded strategy
Byzantium had followed during the previous centuries and highlighted the new
capabilities of its imperial army.

Italy: The Saracens captured Taranto in 927 (or 928) and deported its population
into slavery; the town was effectively deserted until its recovery by the empire in
967 (Runciman, Lecapenus p.190).

1. Italy: A Sicilian-Muslim fleet sails towards Lombard-Latin Salerno and Greco-
Neapolitan Naples; it retires when an appropriate money tribute is paid. By 930, a
lasting peace was agreed with the Christians. Cf below: 928-29.

2. Roman Catholicism vs. Constantinopolitan Orthodoxy (if we may use these

anacronistic terms*) in Dalmatia: Due to the intebravtion of the Croation king
Tomislav, the See of Nin was suppressed in 928, when the See of Split renounced
the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople and submitted to Rome. Oddly,
Nin lay within Croatian borders whereas Split was a dependency of Constantinople
. . . (Cath. Encyc. under ‘Dalmatia’; Fine 1991: 269-70).

(*) One might equally have written Roman Orthodoxy and

Constantinopolitan Catholicism . . .

3. The West: Abu'l Fida'y, an Arabic historian and geographer from the 1300s,
states that in 928/9 off the coast of Maghreb and Sicily there appeared a Slavic

pirate fleet of 30 ships which, together with the Arabs’ own ships, pillaged
Calabria, Corsica, and Sardinia. After some time, these Slavic pirates decided to
permanently settle in a quarter of Arabic Palermo which was named after them.

Romanos’ sons were co-emperors with him:
(1) aged about 31: Stefanos or Stephen Lecapenus, 2nd son of Romanos, junior
Emperor of Byzantium, 928-945, born ca 897, died 945; 1m: Anna Galabaina; 2m:
Bertha [Theodora] of Lucca, b. ca 916, dau. of Guidone [Guy] of Lucca, Marchese
[margrave] di Toscana (Tuscany) [d. 929]. Bertha’s mother was the power-broker
of Rome, Marioza, opponent of the pope.
(2) aged about 28: Konstantinos, Emperor of Byzantium, 928-945, born ca 900,
+945; 1m: Elena N [other names not known]; 2m: Teofané or Theophano

929 (or earlier):

1. Italy: “Pandulphus, et Guaymarius Principes intraverunt in Apuliam” (Lupus). -
‘The princes Pandulf and Guaimar penetrate into (enter) (Byzantine) Apulia’.
The 'Lombard'-Italians of Capua and Salerno, having broken with
Constantinople since 926, briefly occupy [c.927?] much of the Theme of
Langobardia (until 935/36). “For all practical purposes the hinterland of Apulia and
large tracts of Lucania [inland from the top of the Gulf of Taranto] and Calabria
were lost to Byzantium” (Runciman 1963: 192). See 935.

2. The East: Curcuas raids into Muslim-ruled southern Armenia. Because of civil
war, Baghdad is unable to aid the local Muslim forces. But Curcuas is defeated by
the forces of the Muslim emir or governor of Azerbaijan and retreats (Treadgold
1997: 480).

From 929: At Cordoba, the self-proclaimed ‘caliph’ ‘Abd al-Rahman III

begins to issue dinars, the first gold coins to be minted in the West since
classical times - to compete with the nomisma or solidus of Byzantium. Cf
996, Sicily.

fl. Abu'l-Faraj, Arab encyclopaedist, author of the "Book of Songs" [Kitab al-
Agani], an encyclopaedic history of Arabian poetry.

Upper Mesopotamia: The strategos of Lycandus*, the Armenian general Melias
[Arm. Mleh] leads a raid to Samosata, but is repulsed. Treadgold 1997: 481 calls
him a ‘border baron’, meaning that he served his own interests at least as much
as the emperor’s.

(*) Formerly Lapara, which is modern Kızlar Kalesi, in far eastern Cappadocia.
Lycandus was created in 908 as a cleisura with 800 troops. It was upgraded to a
theme thereafter, but still with just 800 men (Treadgold, Army p.81).

12 January 930: In the Caliphate: The Qarmatians [Ar. Qaramita] of

present-day Bahrain were (since 899) an anti-Fatimid splinter Isma’ili* or
proto-Isma’ili Shi’ite movement. They were utopianist egalitarians and
vegetarians. Under their leader Abu Tahir Sulayman, they sack Mecca,
and take with them the Black Stone of the Kaa'ba. This act was meant to
symbolise the end of the Islamic or Arab era and the beginning of a new
Persian cycle. Twenty years later they returned the stone under pressure
from the (Shi’ite) Fatimid Caliph al-Mansur. The Qaramatians were finally
overthrown by the (Sunni) 'Abbasids in 1077.

(*) For whom Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far, was the Imam, the last, and either the 6th or
7th, true descendant of Muhammad’s true heir, Ali.
Ja'far ibn Muhammad (Ja'far al-Sadiq), d.765, is the last Imam
recognised by both Twelver Shi’tes (the largest branch of Shi’ism) and

Ismaili Shi’ites. Ja'far al-Sadiq’s older son, Ismail, is recognized by

“Ismailis” as the next Imam, while the Twelvers consider the younger son
Musa al-Kazim, to be the successor Imam.
Historically Isma’ilis believed that Ismai’il’s son, Muhammad ibn Ismail
(d. or “occulted” 809), went into ‘Occultation’, and were called ‘Seveners’
to reflect their belief in only seven imams, Muhammad's father Ismail
being the last until his, Muhammad’s, return. This line of belief is extinct
Twelvers belief that the line of Imams continued through Musa al-Kazim
until Abu'l Qasim Muhammad ibn Hasan ibn ‘Ali, born in 869 AD, who is the
last. He went into Occultation i.e. has disappeared but is alive and will one
day return and fill the world with justice.
Present-day Isma’ils, the Zaidi and Nizari Ismaili, do not believe in the
idea of Occultation. They believe the line of Imams continued through and
after Muhammad ibn Ismail. Although often the Imams had to hide from
persecution in the 800s, they did not go into a long, mystic Occultation.
Subsequently Ubayd Allah (Abd Allah) al-Mahdi Billah, r. 909-934, the
founder of the Fatimid dynasty, initially in Tunisia, claimed to be the Imam
and his successors set up an Ismai’li caliphate in Egypt.
Later in 1094 there was a dispute over who should be caliph. The
Fatimids in Egypt selected one of two brothers. Ismailis in Persia and Syria
preferred the other, by the name of Nizar. The Aga Khan descends from

The East: The imperial army raids southern Armenia. In a riposte, three Muslim
armies attack Byzantine territory. The army of the Emir of Tarsus penetrates deep
into Anatolia and sacks Amorium [in central Asia Minor: SW of Ankara] (Treadgold
1997: 481). The Caliphate then directed forces into Mesopotamia and the East-
Romans were forced to pull back, withdrawing their garrisons from Melitene and
Samosata. Armenia is then attacked by the Azerbaijanis.
In March 931 the Byzantines were hit by three successive raids in Asia Minor,
organized by the Abbasid commander Mu'nis al-Khadim, while in August, a large
raid led by Suml, the emir of Tarsus, penetrated as far as Ancyra and Amorium
and returned with prisoners worth 136,000 dinars in ransom (Runciman p.141)
The subsequent splintering of the Abbasid empire meant that this was the
last, or one of the last, occasions on which Arab forces invaded
Romanic/Byzantine Anatolia. Cf 942. (It was more than 150 years before new
invaders appeared, i.e. the Seljuk Turks.)

2. Serbia: Chaslav, who returned to rule Serbia about 931 under Romanian
(‘Greek’) auspices, was of the line of the exiles who had been brought up at the
Bulgarian court of Preslav in its great days. Chaslav enlarged the state,
incorporating parts of Bosnia and Travunia, the coastal region SE of Ragusa. He
carved out a tenuous independence from the Bulgarians, although nominally
under their rule (Vlasto 1970).

3. Italy/Provence: A Byzantine fleet pursues a squadron of Saracen ships right into

the harbour that serviced the Provencal ‘pirate’ base (colony) of Fréjus or
Fraxinet, today’s Garde-Freinet.
If one draws a straight line from Toulon to Cannes, La Garde Freinet is located
almost exactly at midpoint
The Muslims called their base Fraxinet - Arabic Farakhshanit - after the local
village of Fraxinetum, named in Antiquity for the ash trees, Latin fraxini, then
common in surrounding forests. Today, the village survives as La-Garde-Freinet, a
picturesque, unspoiled settlement tucked among forests of cork oak and chestnut
some 1,300 feet or 400 metres up in the Massif des Maures, between the Argens
Plain and the Gulf of St. Tropez. That is: inland, about 15 km NW of St Tropez.

The first serious effort to expel the Muslims from Fraxinet in Provence was made

in about 931 (and again in 942) by the Frankish (Burgundian) ruler Hugh of Arles,
king of N Italy and Provence [r.924-47; in 933 he relinquished Provence to Rudolf
of Upper Burgundy]. Provence or ‘Lower Burgundy’ was the region or sub-kingdom
covering Lyons, Grenoble, Arles, Marseilles and Nice. The Italy-Provencal border
ran to the sea west of Genoa.
Hugh enlisted the aid of Byzantine warships - sailing probably from Sardinia.
The warships, hurling "Greek fire", attacked and destroyed a Muslim fleet or
flotilla in the Gulf of St. Tropez (Lebling 2009; Sénac, Zones côtières, p.116).
Straicly speoaking the Chronicon Turonense does not mention shsips, saying only
that Hugh attacked ‘with Greek Fire sent to him from the Greek emperor’, but
since ‘the Saracen ships were totally burnt out’, we may take in that Greek ships
were involved.
Meanwhile, in a coordinated land assault, Hugh's army besieged the fortress at
Fraxinet and succeeded in breaching its defences.
The Muslim defenders were forced to withdraw to neighbouring heights. But
just when the end of Muslim power in France seemed inevitable, local politics
intervened. The king, desperate for allies, sent the Greek fleet back to
Constantinople and formed a hasty alliance with the Muslims he had just sought
to expel! (Others says this took place during the 942 attack.) He signed a treaty
conceding control of Fraxinet and other areas to the Muslims and stipulating that
Arab forces should occupy the Alpine heights - from Mont Genèvre Pass in the
west: NW of Genoa; inland north from Nice, to the Septimer Pass in the east - the
Swiss Alps - and block any attempt by his rival for the crown of Italy, Rudolf II of
Burgundy, to cross into Italy. Cf below: 931-42.

2. Forced election of Theophylact or Theophilatos, son of Romanos I, aged just 14

(!), as patriarch, 931-56. Romanus sent envoys to Rome to seek papal blessing
and approval for his appointment.

3. Death of Christopher, Romanus' eldest son.

Sardinia and Provence: “In the Annales by Flodoardus of Rheims”, writes
Cosentino, “it is said that in 931 (see above) a Greek [Byzantine] fleet attacked
the Muslim outpost of Fraxinetum [in Provence]. Another Greek expedition against
Fraxinetum in 942 can be found in the Antapodosis by Liutprand of Cremona.”
Cosentino proposes that these expeditions were carried out from Sardinia. Cf 939.

Civil troubles in Baghdad; few if any clashes with the empire on the borders.

fl. Saadyah ben Joseph, the Jewish philosopher, gaon (rector) of the Sura
Academy - at Sura on the Euphrates, under Muslim rule. He translated the
Jewish Bible into Arabic.

Upper Mesopotamia: Curcuas’s troops threaten Abbasid-ruled Melitene, but the
Muslims hold them off. In Armenia, the Byzantines take Manzikert, present-day
Turkish Malazgirt.

From 932:
Byzantium had firm control of the towns of south-west Armenia including
Manzikert, modern Malazgirt: north of Lake Van (by 933). Erzerum too
acknowledged Constantinople's suzerainty.

After 932 there will be only two occasions on which Arab raiders will cross the
frontier: in 940: Sayf's attack on Koloneia, Colonea; and in 942: the last raid from
Tarsus under Suml. Cf 934. Also 956: Sayf’s raid into Anzitene, which can be
excluded as it was a raid for booty not an invasion as such.

Italy: Rival Frankish and Lombard-Italian kings of northern Italy, seeking to assert
their rule over papal Rome, compete to gain support from Byzantium. The Pope
also suddenly turned into a friend of Byzantium … Cf 933.
At sea in the West, the Byzantines were now largely in control again - against
the Saracens of Sicily and N Africa.

First-ever Shi’ite dynasty in the Muslim centre: the Buwayids or Buyids of
Baghdad, reigning in the name of the Abbasid line. They were ethnic Daylamis,
originally highlanders from N Iran, the region S of the Caspian (NW of modern
A major weakness of Buyid rule was the fact that the Shi’ite Deylamites or
Daylamis remained foot-soldiers, famously armed with axes. Thus from the
beginning the Buyids were forced to employ Sunni Turkish horsemen in large
numbers to balance their armies. Fighting between the two ethnic-religious
elements became endemic under the later Buyids. Or so says the Encyclopaedia
Iranica:; accessed 2009.

1. Romanus' teenage son Theophylact is enthroned as patriarch in the presence
of papal legates (Runciman p.77).

2. Romanus installs his new daughter-in-law as Augusta or empress.

c. 933:
S Asia Minor: Constantine Porphyrogenitus, writing in about 933, listed the several
important towns of the Cibyrrhaeot theme: only one, Mylasa or Milas, NE of
modern Bodrum, was an inland site (De Thematibus 14).

NE Syria: Kourkouas ravages the regions around Melitene and Samosata. The aim
was to destroy or depopulate Samosata and to capture Melitene and fully
Christianise it by driving out its Muslim minority (Treadgold, State p. 481). See

1. Thrace: First-ever Hungarian incursion into the heartland of the Romaniyan
(‘Greek’) empire: A Pecheneg and Magyar invasion crosses Bulgaria and reaches
as far as Develtos on the western Black Sea coast or further into Thrace. They
“killed [ed] off the inhabitants, inflicting severe damage on the countryside and
forcing both Byzantium and Bulgaria to pay them tribute” (NCMH 2000: 543). The
number of their captives, who must have been chiefly Bulgarian, was so great
that a woman could be bought for a silk dress (Runciman p.107).
Imperial diplomacy and gold dissuaded them from proceeding very far in the
direction of Constantinople. Cf 937 and see 943, 958 and 962.

One battle in 934 between the combined Pecheneg-Hungarian army and an

opposing Bulgarian-Byzantine army was observed by or related to the Arab writer
Mas’udi. The battle began when some of the steppes archers manoeuvered to the
flanks, encircled the Byzantine army and “showered” it continually with arrows, all
the while “shooting vigorously”. The aim was to provoke an ill-timed charge,
which, when it came, resulted in the Byzantine army being “utterly annihilated by
arrows”. The centre of the northern army had remained motionless until the
Byzantine force was ready to begin a charge. It then divided and moved to the
flanks and from there fired volley after volley sideways into the charging
southerners (Charles Bowlus, Battle of Lechfeld, London: Ashgate 2006 p.35,
citing Révész’s Ancient Hungarians).

2. The caliph is deposed. To gain from this, a combined Byzantine-Armenian army

of "50,000" under John Curcuas /Kourkouas/, the Domestic of the Scholae or Army
Commander, ravages upper Mesopotamia and besieges a half-deserted Melitene,
modern Malatya (Treadgold 1997: 481). Melitene is captured: the first
important Arab emirate to be annexed. Runciman says that he fall of
Melitene profoundly shocked the Muslim world: for the first time, a major Muslim
population centre had fallen and been incorporated into the Byzantine Empire.
Imperial rule was extended to the line of the Upper Euphrates. (See 939-44:
Edessa.) Many of the townspeople decided quickly to convert to Christianity.

Shaban p.171 notes that the fall of Malatya to the East-Romans led to the
diversion (930s) of trade routes, initially further south to Hamdanid Aleppo and
further east to Hamdanid Nisibis and Mosul. But the Byzantines eventually
decided (940s) to disallow Muslim traders to enter the empire except at two
points: (a) land-traders had to enter via Trebizond in the north, and (b) sea
traders had to come to the port of Antalya on the Mediterranean coast of Asia
Minor. This in turn led to (1) a more thorough collection of taxes by the Byzantine
authorities, and (2) the decline of the Muslim trade centres in the Cilicia-Syria
frontier region. The prosperity of Aleppo and Nisibis also suffered.

3. The West: A strong army, or a regiment at least, is sent to Byzantine Italy. They
were transported in a fleet of 18 ships (11 chelandia and seven Rus’ karabia)
(McCormick 2001: 970). This persuaded the Latin-Italians or ‘Lombards’ to
withdraw from N Apulia (from 935).
Pryor & Jeffreys note that the inventory for the Italian expeditions of 934 and
935 mentioned cavalry(men) but not horses; they propose that the journey was
too far to take horses, and that probably the cavalrymen received local horses on
arrival (Dromon p.324, citing Constantine VII’s De Cer., 600.13-661.6, documents
2 and 3).
Romanic-Byzantine northern Apulia was mainly Romance-speaking. But
Byzantine Calabria and "the land of Otranto", southern Apulia, were mainly Greek-
speaking - and remained so for centuries to come.

4. The Frankish kingdom of Italy: Muslims from Ifiqiya sacked Genoa. The Fatimid
ruler al-Qa'im sent (934) a fleet of 20 vessels from Mahdiyya to south and north
Italy; this expedition sacked Genoa in the following year (935), returning to
Ifriqiya with much booty (Italian Wikipedia 2010 s.v. ‘Storia di Genova’).

Second Law of Romanos I against the rich, AD 934.
“We command that, in every region and province which, after God, our
authority governs, the inhabitants have their appointed dwelling free and
undisturbed. If [the property] remains in his possession in his lifetime, let it be the
property by inheritance of the children and relatives, or let the possessor's will be
executed. But if, in the course of human life and time's reversals, because of
necessity or need, or even desire, he partially or totally allows alienation of his
lands, let the right of purchase reside with the inhabitants of the same or
neighbouring fields or villagelands. We do not set out these laws through hatred
or jealousy of the more powerful, but we command it out of good will and
protection for the poor (penetes), and for common salvation.”
Cf Theophanes Continuatus: “… He [Romanus] sent devout and fair men to
ease the great burdens on the wretched poor (ptochoi), which had been levied
regardless of circumstance. To the Anatolikon [theme or province] he sent the
magistros Romanos Saronites, to the Opsikion the magistros Romanos Mousele, to
the Thrakesion the patrikios Photios, and to the Armeniakon Leo Agelastos. In due
course [good men were sent to] the remaining provinces (themata). The men, on
the emperor's instruction, gave the poor a small return (mikran anakochen).” -

From:; accessed

April 2005.

934-940: Reign of ar-Radi, the last Abbasid caliph with significant political
power. Cf 944. The dissolution of the Caliphate into lesser emirates
after 940 favoured the aggressive strategy of Byzantium.
Emirates were subsequently set up at Mosul [see 932], Aleppo [see
944], Diyarbakir [see 983], Azerbaijan, Arran and Shirvan (on the Caspian
Sea). They stood between the three great powers: (1) the Byzantine
empire; and (2) the governors of Baghdad who now controlled a puppet
caliph; the Buyids (an Iranian line) being governors from 945; and (3) the
future Fatimid dominions: Palestine, Egypt and N Africa [Egypt was ruled
by the Ikhshids until 969; conquered in that year by the Fatimids of the

1. Peace in the East. Dissolution of the Caliphate.

2. Italy: Further imperial expedition to Longobardia, to eject the Lombard-Italian

prince of Capua. This included a regiment of 415 Russian Varangian ('Rhos')
mercenaries. When the Byzantines struck an alliance with Hugh of Provence, the
Frankish king of [northern] Italy, Regnum Italicum, the Capuans withdrew and
(936) restored the former Imperial territories. But they did not begin re-using their
old imperial titles, a signal of their real independence.
Constantine VII’s De Cer., 600.13-661.6, says that vessels and troops were
sent under the prôtospatharios Epiphanios to the thema of Lombardy by Romanos
I in the 8th year of the indiction (i.e. 935).
The maritime cities - Naples, Amalfi etc - remained on good terms with
Byzantium through this period (Runciman 1963:194). “Since 929 the Saracens
had no longer been a menace, and [by 936] the Greeks had largely recovered the
mastery of the seas [around Italy]” (ibid).

3. Italy: In 935 Genoa was surprised and sacked by a fleet from Sicily and N
Africa: “200” (or 20) ships sent by the Fatimid (Tunisian) ruler Abû al Qâsim
Muhammad. But the Genoese fleet followed up the enemy and defeated them off
Sardinia near the island of Asinara.
Italian ‘pirates (slavers)’ had raided the coastal regions of Fatimid Africa, and
al-Qasim responded by dispatching a squadron of 20 vessels under the command
of an al-Bahr (admiral) named Yaqub ibn Ishaq al-Tamimi. They made a successful
attack on Italy, the south of France, and the coast of Genoa and Calabria, and a
part of Lombardy was also attacked. The Fatimid forces used mangonels (arradas
or dabbabas), stone-throwing engines.; accessd 2009.

Mesopotamia: Curcuas marches on Samosata, takes it and razes it (Treadgold
1997: 483). A large body of Arabs, the tribe of the Banu Habib—12,000 cavalry—
defects from Islam to the empire, and a line of five new themes is created to
accommodate them: namely Melitene, Charpezicium, Arsamosata,
Chozanum and Derzene (Treadgold 1995: 78 and 1997: 483).

Treadgold, Army p.113, proposes that the overall total enrolled in the Romanic
army was now about 142,000 men, including probably 51,500 cavalry (some

The West: Otto I assumes the German crown at Aachen. Revival of a re-
imagined western empire. See 951, 955.

1. Pagan Magyars ravage and plunder across western Europe. See 955.

In 937, “a troop” in the service of King Hugh of N Iyaly crossed the Alps from
France to Italy. Hugh then sent the Magyars against Capua, Monte Cassino and
Naples; they raided as far as Otranto in the far SE of Byzantine Apulia (NCMH
2000: 534). And their troops will gallop under the walls of Constantinople in 942.
“Anno 936 [sic: 937]: venerunt Ungari] [ad] Capuam”: ‘The Hungarians come to
Capua’. - Lupus.

“In battle, most Magyars will carry two weapons, the halberd [sic: hooked spear?]
hung upright on a shoulder, and a bow in hand, using each by turns; however,
when taken into pursuit, the bow is the weapon of choice. In addition to the
warriors themselves, the horse of the distinguished warrior is also fitted with
armour in the front. Great effort and diligent practice is exercised in training
mounted archers." … (Leo VI, Taktika, quoted in A Short History of Hungarian
Archery, at; accessed 2009).

2. Muslim Sicily: Not far from the port of Bal’harm or Palermo is the area known as
the Kalsa. It dates back to the year 937, when an outer line of defence was built
against any attack from the sea. In Arabic it was known as al-Khalisa (‘pure, real,
true’: the real Palermo) - hence Kalsa. It was encircled by a high wall with four
gates, and formed the administrative centre of Sicily. Inside the walls were a
richly decorated mosque, barracks for the troops, the arsenal [i.e. ship storage
and repair sheds], and the headquarters of the government ministries. – ‘Muslim
Sicily’, Saudi Aramco World 29, 6 (1978), online at; accessed

Fatimid governor of Sicily: Abu'l-'Abbas Khalil ibn Ishaq ibn Werd, 937–944.

3. Asia: fl. Luke or Loukas ‘the Stylite’ or pillar-dweller. He was born before 900 to
“noble” parents in the theme of Anatolikon, according to the Synaxarion of
Constantinople in the village of Attikom[e] (Synax. CP 299.31-32).
He embarked upon a military career, but was ordained a priest after an East-
Roman defeat at the hands of the Bulgarians [cf above: 896 etc]. He remained in
the army for several more years, but eventually retired to the monastery of St.
Zacharias on Mt. Olympos. He later moved to Constantinople, and, in pursuit of
the sanctity of Christ, spent more than 40 years “standing on” (living atop) the
pillar of Eutropios, in the port-town of that name, near Chalcedon.
He died on 11 December, probably in the year 979. Since his death supposedly
occurred at the age of 100, the date of his birth is traditionally given as 879. But
this may well be a hagiographical topos, and Kazhdan (in BZ 78 [1985] 53) has
proposed an alternative birthdate of ca. 900, since Loukas was about 30 during
the “great famine” (of 927/8?). Thus Kazdhan et al. 2005 – at

Byzantines conquer Sophene, the region east of the upper Euphrates. The
strangulation and capture of Arab Arsamosata [modern Elazig] (937-9) was
followed by the conquest of the highlands of Chorzane, north of the Upper Tigris
(937-42) (Whittow p.318). Cf 939.

1. The East: Formal peace negotiations opened between Constantinople and
Ikhshid Baghdad. Their common foe was the Hamdanid emir of Mosul or Mawsil
who controlled all the Muslim frontier provinces from Mosul to Aleppo. A prisoner
exchange took place: 6,300 people passed on either side, but the Byzantines held
800 more, so the truce was prolonged for six months to allow the Muslims to
progressively buy back these 800 (Toynbee 1973: citing Ibn Sa’id). Cf 939.

2. Romanus sends (937-38) an embassy to the Muslim governor of Egypt.

3. Sicily: Revolt by Muslims and Christians in Muslim-ruled Sicily (until 941). The

Byzantines send aid in the form of some troops and many provisions. Many
"Greek" refugees fled to Calabria (Runciman p.194).
First of the Kalbids: The failed siege of Agrigento [Girgenti] in south-central
Sicily in AH 326 / AD 938 saw the death of Ali bin Ali al-Kalbi, son-in-law of Salim
bin Abi Rashid [Salim ibn Asad ibn Rashid al-Kutami], the then Fatimid-appointed
governor of Sicily, from 305/917 to 325/936. His son Hasan bin Ali al-Kalbi, who
had distinguished himself in the campaigns waged by Imam al-Qaim and Imam al-
Mansur against Abu Yazid, was (from 948) the first of a succession of Kalbid
governors in Sicily, a kind of hereditary emirate under the Fatimids which lasted
until the middle of 5th/11th century.

4. Treatise on siegecraft by the anonymous author known (wrongly) as “Hero of

Byzantium”. (See Dennis 2000: “Siegecraft”,
cme/ram/download/Siegecraft; accessed Jan 2005.)

1a. The East, medieval Armenia: The Romanians (‘Greeks’) attack Theodosiopolis,
today’s Erzurum, an unconquered Muslim outpost. The Arabs held it until 949.

1b. Ali ibn Hamdan - ‘Sayf-al-Dawla’, as he was later called: “sword of the
realm/dynasty” – was the son of the governor of Mosul and Diyarbakır. Aged 23
years old, he decides to attempt to conquer Armenia. Proceeding north from
Nisibis, he led an army across the River Tigris into the Armenian principality of
Taron east of Lake Van (Ye’or p.49). These attacks forced the Byzantines to
withdraw from the region. See 940.

Provence: Nasr ibn Ahmad, a leader of the Muslim “pirate” outpost of

Fraxinet, Arabic Farakhshanit, is mentioned in the Muqtabis of Ibn Hayyan
of Cordoba, the greatest historian of medieval Spain. According to that
11th-century chronicle, the caliph Abdul Rahman [Abd’ ar-Rahman] III
made peace (*) in 939-40 with a number of Frankish rulers and sent copies
of the peace treaty to Nasr ibn Ahmad, described as "commander" of
Farakhshanit, as well as to the Arab governors of the Balearic Islands and
the seaports of al-Andalus - all of them subject to the Spanish Umayyad
caliphate. Nothing else is known about the Fraxinet commander. Cf 944
and 965.

(*) The army of Ramiro II of Leon defeated the caliph’s troops on several
occasions in north-central Spain in 939.

Further series of Byzantine-Arab conflicts. The East Romans will capture Edessa,
the city beyond the Euphrates: modern Urfa, and will transfer (see 944) to
Constantinople the holy relic known as the Mandylion, lit. ‘little mantle-veil-
handkerchief’. It was a towel believed to bear the miraculous imprint or painting
of Christ's face.

c. 940:
SE Asia Minor: With Byzantium now in control of the western Taurus passes,
Cicilian Seleucia is raised from a cleisoura or border district to the status of a
theme. But Cilicia proper, including Tarsus, remained in Muslim hands.

1. Italy: “Anno 940: introierunt Ungari, vel Unni in Italiam mense Aprilis, et factum
est proelium in Matera à Graecis cum Langobardis cum Stratigo Imogalapto et
negavit eum Pao [sic: ?Pope] in mari” (Chronicle of Lupus): ‘The Hungarians or
Huns [Magyars] reach Italy in April,* and at Matera make battle with the Greeks
and Lombards under the [new] strategos Imogalaptus [sic: Theognosto
Limnogalaktos], and he refuses or denies them [?halts their entry] to the Papal
“Imogalapto” also fought a major battle with the Lombard princes; but the

outcome is not recorded (Lupus, cited by Rambaud 1870: 448).

(*) At Rome they were held off by the local population.

2. Armenia briefly submits to Ali I, called Sayf-ud Dawla [Sayf ad-Dawlah Abu al-
Hasan ibn Hamdan], founder of the splinter Hamdanids of Aleppo. Like his father
he leaned towards Shi’ism, specifically Nusayri Isma’ilism.
Sayf recommences his invasion of Armenia; the main Armenian king (briefly)
submits. Having captured Mouhs, the capital of Armenian Taron east of Lake Van,
Sayf enters Romanic/Byzantine territory, and penetrates to Colonea south-west of
Trebizond. But Curcuas proceeded against him, and Sayf retired.

3. d. Eutychius (Sa’id b. al-Batriq), Melkite patriarch of Alexandria and chronicler.

1. Sayf is distracted by the death-throes of the Caliphate; peace in the East-
Roman East.

2. The pagan "Russians" [Varangians] obtain permission to pass through

Petcheneg territory on their way to Byzantium. The Scandinavian-Russian Prince
Ingwarr ("Igor") leads a naval attack on Constantinople with "1,000" canoe-
ships, the number as given by Luitprand, cited in Runciman 1963: 111 and
Davidson 1976: 132.

The Rus’ attack of 941

Grand Prince Igor Rurikovich sailed against Tsargrad or the "emperor city", the
Slavic name for Constantinople, with a large force of lodyas - dug-out ‘sailing
The Byzantine fleet was not in home waters; thus the emperor decided to recall
general Kourkouas from the East, and meanwhile rigged out a small fleet from 15
old galleys, which had to be heavily repaired.
In a sea battle fought off the north-east coast of the Bosphorus, the renovated
galleys, dromons, decimated the Kievan fleet with "Greek fire". This was a liquid,
probably distilled petroleum, fired from flamethrowers (siphon-pumps) carried by
the galleys and also catapulted from them as fireballs at the enemy ships. The
projector-jets were either fixed in brass figureheads on ships or manipulated to
turn in various directions.
It is said that the “several thousand” Russian boats were destroyed by just 15
‘semifracta chelandria’ [sic] or ‘half-size’ galleys. (The Greek is chelandia;
Liutprand adds a “r”.) Normally Byzantine galleys had Greek Fire projectors only
at the prow. On this occasion they were equipped with several siphons so that
they could throw ‘liquid fire’ on “all” sides: from the prow, the stern and the sides,
probably because the Byzantines knew their tiny flotilla would quickly be
surrounded by the enemy “canoes”. No doubt the fire had a severe impact, but
the main effect seems to have been terror: the Russians dived over-board and
drowned (Partington p.18).
The Greek and Russian sources describe a massive fleet, while Luitprand
reports with less exaggeration that the 'Russians' had a little over 1,000 smallish
craft - enough to carry 40,000 men (Runciman 1963: 111; Whittow p.244). Even
this figure seems incredibly large. As noted, the Romanian (‘Greek’) navy was
absent in the Aegean or Mediterranean, and Romanus could employ only "15" old
ships rigged out with Greek fire, but this was enough to divert the Rus’ to land in
Bithynia, which they ravaged. With the return to European side of the fleet under
Admiral Theophanes (a patrikios and eunuch), and the approach of the main army
under Curcuas, the Russians decided to cross into Thrace. Theophanes’ fleet then
annihilated the Russian boats with Greek Fire. Leo the Deacon says that only “10”
Russian boats survived to reach the other side of the Black Sea. See 944.
“They related that the Greeks had in their possession the lightning from
heaven; and had set them on fire by pouring it forth, so that the Rus could not
conquer them” (Russian Primary Chronicle).

A victory celebration was held in Admiral Theophanes' honour. There was a

triumphal return, a splendid ceremonial reception and a promotion, with
Theophanes elevated to the position of parakoimomenos (first bodyguard or
chamberlain: the senior eunuch who supervised the personal safety of the
emperor by locking himself within his bedchamber at night).

Eunuchs: ‘The angels' worldly counterparts’

“By the 10th century, many Byzantine eunuchs came from the educated,
propertied, freeborn classes within the empire and had been castrated within its
boundaries. Unlike their predecessors, these later eunuchs often retained ties to
their families and used their positions at court or in the church to promote the
status of their relatives. Eunuchs had for centuries been assigned social roles as
teachers, doctors, guardians of women and children, personal servants,
entertainers, and singers. Now we find that these roles have been expanded. By
the 900s several important court offices were reserved for eunuchs, and an
important part of their gender construct was centred on their perceived loyalty,
trustworthiness, intellectual abilities, unique spiritual capacities, and their ability
to transcend social and spiritual boundaries.” - Kathryn Ringrose, The Perfect
Servant: Eunuchs and the Social Construction of Gender in Byzantium. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2003, p.85.

1. Mt Athos:* Romanos I Lecapenos granted an annual subsidy of one gold piece
for each Athonite monk, as was the custom in other major monastic centres in the
Empire, such as Olympus in Bithynia, Mount Cymina and Mount Latros [NW of
Mileus in SW Asia Minor]. The monks thus became salaried public servants,
praying for the monarch and his army, especially when on campaign
(Karakatsanis et al. 1997). Noting the following events, Romanos must have
thought it proved a good investment – see 942.

(*) The Chalkidiki peninsula south-east of Thessalonica has three long

finger-like capes or sub-peninsulas. Mt Athos is near the tip of the top
finger, i.e. ESE of Thessaloniki.

2. Provence: Byzantine-Frankish (Italo-Frankish) alliance (941) to eliminate the

Saracen (Andalusi) outpost or military colony at Fréjus-Fraxinet* in Provence. The
allied naval forces - mainly Byzantine – prevailed. But before the colony could be
taken by land, King Hugh of [north] Italy switched (942) his allegiance and made
peace with the Muslims. See 942-52 and 944.

(*) Fréjus on the coast SW of Nice was their naval HQ; Fraxinet was their
mountain fortress some 15 km inland.

At the request of the Frankish king Hugh, as Liutprand records, help was sent in
the form of the imperial warships (chelandia) armed with Greek fire [naves . . .
Greco cum igne] seeking to eject the Arab pirates (slavers) established at Frejus.
Romanus Lecapenus answered the request for aid affirmatively and asked to be
sent a daughter as husband for his three-years old grandson, Romanus, the son of
Constantine VII and future emperor [acc. 959]. Hugh hurried to answer that he
only had a daughter, illegítimate but very beautiful. After considering the matter,
Romanus finally considered the young Bertha acceptable and approved the offer.
See 944.

New eastern offensive (942-44): Kourkouas campaigns successfully in Armenia,
and in Syria raids the area around Aleppo. Arab sources say the Byzantine army
numbered “80,000” men; a figure of 40-60,000 men is more likely. Up to “15,000”
people were taken captive in the province of Aleppo (Treadgold, State p.484;
Norwich, Apogee 1993: 153). Rotman p.49 underlines that abducting the civilian

population was a major aim of the campaign; evidently in order to swap them in
ransom for captured Byzantines.
To counter Kourkouas, the Muslims raided into Asia Minor from Tarsus: the last
ever Arab attack on Byzantium. But Curcuas was not distracted and
proceeded against Edessa, which he besieged (943-44). With the permission of
the caliph, the Muslim emir of Edessa agreed to surrender the famous Christian
relic called the 'Mandylion', reputedly the towel on which Christ had dried His
face, leaving - so the pious believed - an authentic portrait (see below: 944).

942-52: S Francia: Muslim “pirate” settlement at Nice; Muslim occupation

of Grenoble until 965; Muslim fortresses in Pièdmont: Fressineto and
Fenestrelle, SW of Turin, until 970 (Lebling 2009; Reinaud 1964).

The Balkans: A large Magyar force threatens Thrace; but a treaty is struck, and
the Magyars left Byzantium alone for some decades (Curta 2006: xix). Runciman
1963: 108 remarks that, while western Europe was greatly alarmed by the
Hungarians, the Byzantines, because “better used to invasions, treated them
quite calmly”.

1. The East: Kourkouas’s army campaigns successfully across upper Mesopotamia
(943). The East-Romans took the cities of Amida, which is present-day Diyarbakir
on the Upper Tigris; Daras or Dara; and (briefly) Nisibis, modern Nusaybin, on the
far eastern border of today’s Syria and Turkey: SE of Amida, NW of Mosul.
As Runciman remarks, 1963: 147, these towns had never in 300 years seen
Christian armies.
After acquiring Nisibis in 941/42, the Hamdanids had so severely taxed it that
effectively the entire population of the region, the Banu Habib clans, switched
sides. They decamped to East Roman territory, taking with them their slaves,
partisans, cattle and movable property. The Banu Habib were able to deploy
10,000 or 12,000 horsemen, so this must have represented a population transfer
of the order of (say) 60,000 people. They converted to Christianity and received
good land and extra livestock from the Romanian (‘Greek’) government. The Banu
Habib now became raiders against their former countrymen (Toynbee p. 84 and
Shaban p.172, citing Ibn Hawqal of Nisibis).

2. Mesopotamia: The Mandylion relic - “Christ’s towel” - was surrendered (944)

and brought from Edessa to Constantinople (ODB II: 1282-83). ‘Mandylion’ means
‘napkin’ or ‘little mantle-veil-handkerchief’. It was a towel believed to bear the
miraculous imprint or painting of Christ's face.
In 943, the Romanic-Byzantine general John Curcuas laid siege to Arab-ruled
Edessa, modern Urfa, W Turkey. To avoid the town’s destruction, Archbishop
Abramius of Samosata arranged for the Edessans to hand over the Mandylion or
‘Image of Edessa’ (944). In exchange, the town received the release of 200
captives, perpetual immunity from attack and 12,000 silver crowns. The Image of
Edessa was then forcibly removed (944) - despite violent protests from the local
(majority) Christian faithful - to Constantinople, to join the Emperor's huge
collection of relics in the Pharos Chapel.
The entry into New Rome (Constantinople) took the form of a triumphant
reception, choreographed in grand style, with a fine sense of dramatic detail. On
the evening of the sacred feast day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, 15
August 944, the Mandylion arrived at the church of Our Lady at Blachernae
(Whittow p.321). The entire court, with the exception of the ageing Emperor
Romanus, absent because of illness, was present to admire the blessed relic.

1a. Provence: Sailing from Constantinople via Italy, a Byzantine squadron
successfully attacked the Muslim ‘pirate’ harbour of Fraxinetum from the sea
while their ‘Lombard’ (N Italian) allies attacked from the land (McCormick 2001:

1b. Italo-Frankish alliance: The young prince Romanus II (aged 6) marries Eudocia,
born Berta or Bertha (also aged 6), illegitimate daughter of Hugh, the Frankish
king of (north) Italy. Hugh was a contender for the title of Western emperor, but it
is curious that Constantinople should agree to the young Romanos marrying
Hugh’s daughter by a low-born mistress. Treadgold, 1997: 485, calls the match
“humiliating”, implying a misjudgement by the boy’s grandfather, the senior
emperor Romanus I. In any event she died in 949 before the marriage could be

2. As we have said, the Edessans surrendered the Mandylion or Holy Towel, a

miraculous portrait of Jesus, to Byzantium; highpoint of Curcuas’ prestige.

3. Constantine and Stephen Lekapenos revolt against their father; they deport
Romanos I into exile, where he becomes a monk; and he dies [948, aged 78].
Curcuas is replaced as domestic of the Scholae or commanding general of the
army. See next.

4. Syria: Sayf al-Dawla defeats the new Domestic, Photeinos Sclerus called
Pantherius [Tzimiskes’ father in law and father of Bardas Skleros], and captures
ex-Abbasid Aleppo and Antioch, which Nicephorus Phocas will later describe as
the “third city of the world” (in Leo Diac. 73.12-15; Runciman p.146). Cf 969:
Byzantium takes Antioch.
The Hamdanids - Sayf and the other sons of the emir of Mosul or Mawsil - will
create independent emirates in Mosul and Aleppo. See 953.
The Hamdanids sack Samosata - to revenge an earlier surrender to the
Byzantines by its inhabitants.

5. Russian-Petcheneg alliance, seeking revenge for 941. But the threat of a further
Varangian (Kievan Rus’, 'Russian') attack on the East Roman capital was defused
by diplomatic action, payment of "tribute" to the ‘Russians’ and a commercial
treaty (945). This led to peace with the Varangians for 25 years. Cf 957.
Already some among the Russians had converted to Christianity.

Revival of Mediterranean trade: Sicilian (Muslim) gold coins (tari) are known to
have been used at Amalfi in S Italy from 922. And by 944 a colony of Latin
merchants from Amalfi had settled in Constantinople. Amalfi was forced into long
distance trade in part because it lacked a productive hinterland. The Roum
(“Greek/foreign Christian”) market recorded as being in Fustat (Cairo) in 959 was
probably in fact Amalfitan (Fossier p.175). Cf Venice under 968.
Cf Runciman 1963:194: “Since 929 the Saracens had no longer been a menace,
and [by 936] the Greeks had largely recovered the mastery of the seas [around
Italy]”. But in travelling from Amalfi to the East, Italian (and Greek) ships had to
go through the Straits of Messina whose western side was held by the Muslims of
It has been claimed that Amalfi’s population reached “70,000” in about AD
1000 (Wikipedia, 2007, under ‘Amalfi’). This is highly unlikely. A more credible
figure might be . . . 7,000.


Cyril Mango notes that by about 900 the empire was recovering from its earlier
nadir. Or, as Browning puts it, p.104, "the ninth century [800s] seems to have
been a period of rapid growth ... after a century of and a half of stagnation", i.e. in
In about 925 there were 494 bishoprics in the empire, distributed as follows:
371 (75%) in Asia Minor; 18 in the Aegean Islands; 99 in the Balkans including
Thrace and Greece; and 16 (4%) in Byzantine south Italy (Browning p.94). The
empire's population was about nine million; thus the average bishopric took in

about 18,000 people.

Some of the fortress-villages and lesser townships that were the seats of the
bishoprics would grow into large towns or small cities by about 975. “It is
important to observe, however, that the new settlements [for example at Corinth
and Athens] had none of the monumental character of Late Antiquity". Thus Cyril
Mango, 1980: 72 ff and 81. They were, to the contrary, cramped medieval-
style towns, much like those in the 'barbarian' West.
Compare the remarks of the Muslim traveller Ibn Hawkal, concerning the period
around c. 960: “Rich cities are few in their [the Byzantines’] kingdom and country,
despite its situation, size and the length of their rule. This is because most of it
[presumably he means Anatolia] consists of mountains, castles [qila’, qala’, kala],
fortresses [husun, khusun], cave dwellings and villages dug out of rock or buried
under the earth” (quoted in Haldon 1990: 112 n57).
Hawkal left Baghdad on his first journey in 943; he visited Armenia in 955 and
Sicily in 973.


After an absence from the Balkan interior for over 300 years following the
collapse of the Danube frontier before Slav and Avar incursions, monetary
circulation starts to pick up again around the time of Romanos [acc. 920]. For
instance, excavations in the Belgrade fortress (ancient Singidunum) – an area
contested by the Bulgarians, Serbs* and Hungarians after 927 - have revealed a
total of 67 Byzantine pieces, and Romanos' issues are the first to appear there
after the late 6th c. coins of Maurice. Similar results are reflected in the finds
around the eastern Serbian town of Pozarevac (ancient Viminacium). -Serbian
Unity Congress, ‘Byzantine Coins’ at
.html; accessed 2009.

(*) The Serbian prince Chaslav, fl. 943, was an ally of Romanus.


AD 944-971

For more on this topic, see O’Rourke 2010.

The Infantry Square, Heavy Pikes and Super-Heavy Cavalry

John Kourkouas, General of the Army 922-44, introduced new tactics, building
upon his experience fighting the Muslims in Mesopotamia. He gave greater
importance to lightly armoured foot soldiers.
The new style of fighting is described in a manual written after 954 by the
general and future emperor Nikephoros Phokas.
For the most part, arms and armour remained as they had been in 900, except
for the greater importance attached to the use of the mace by Phokas' super-
heavy cavalry and the use of a heavy pike by the heavy infantry pikemen.
The main change was tactical: the defensive infantry square, the three-line
cavalry formation, and the offensive "smashing-through" role of the super-heavy

Three Lines of Cavalry

Field armies in the late 10th century sometimes exceeded 40,000 men, of whom
about one-third were cavalry, a similar proportion as in Justinian’s field armies in
the 6th century. In an expeditionary army of about 20,000 the various types of
troops would be represented as set out below: see several pages on under
“Soldiers of the Line”. As will be seen, missile troops - horse archers, foot archers
and slinger-javelinists - numbered 9,800 or nearly half the total, a higher

proportion than under Justinian in the 6th century.

The basic cavalry unit was the new bandon of 50 men, who formed up five ranks
deep. In battle formation 10 banda formed one formation or regiment (parataxis):
this created a 100-horse front (500 = 100 x 5). Lancers were placed in the first
two and also the back rows; horse-archers made up the 3rd and 4th rows, i.e. 40%
were bowmen (McGeer, Dragon’s Teeth p.284; also Toynbee 1973: 313).
For a cavalry engagement, the Rhomaioi drew up in a three-line formation: the
regiment of cataphracts, introduced c.950, formed a wedge in the centre of the
first line, flanked by ordinary cavalry units. The commander stationed himself in
the middle of the second or reserve line (pp.281 ff). The third line, a rearguard,
was an innovation of the early 10th century. The third line could also be tasked
with conducting a flanking movement to surround the enemy.

Super-Heavy Cavalry

There was just a single unit of up to 500 super-heavy cataphracts* (one parataxis
of 10 banda) armed with maces and riding fully-armoured horses: 250 armoured
mace-men or sword-men and 150 armoured archers. They fought in a single large
blunt wedge or trapezium 12 rows deep.

(*) Kataphraktoi. Called “iron-clad” (Gk pansideros) by Leo Diac.

Illustration: - see under ‘Armour”.

Training was rigorous. Phokas and Tzimiskes, and no doubt Kourkouas before
them, required their troops to undertake daily drills. Part of the objective was to
increase physical fitness and dexterity with the shield (Leo the Deacon: Talbot &
Sullivan pp.38-39).

Soldiers of the Line:

Numbers, Troop Types and Equipment

An ideal army of about 20,000 men would have been made up of the following
troop types. Cavalry were outnumbered 2:1 by infantry (McGeer p.202; also
Treadgold 1997: 548).

Note that ideally all the cavalry wore some kind of metal-based armour.

3,600: Ordinary cavalry

These were lancers with plain, one-piece low-conical iron helmets. The lances or
light pikes, Greek: “kontos”, were used for poking, stabbing and thrusting, not for
the couched charge as in later Western armies of the 12th century. The couched
charge did not come into use until the period 1100-1150 (see France p.71).

Their body armour was a waist-length lorikion or mail corselet and/or a klivanion
or klibanion, the iron lamellar corselet or ‘torso cuirass’ covered with an epilorikon
or thick padded surcoat of cotton or coarse silk.
At this time shields were of various shapes: round, oval and kite-shaped.
Phokas gives the size of (round?) cavalry shields as about 110 cm across: four or
five “spithamai”, i.e. 94-127 cm (McGeer pp.41, 212).

2,400: Mounted archers: 40% of the cavalry (McGeer pp. 68, 213)

The smaller cavalry bow could shoot arrows as far as 130 metres, with a killing

range of perhaps 80 metres or 260 feet (McGeer p.68 citing Bivar). The archers
carried on their belt a single large rounded-box quiver with 40-50 arrows. The
arrows were inserted point upwards (opposite to the infantry quiver).
Many horse-archers were native Romanics, but under Nicephoros perhaps the
large majority of this type in the imperial army were "barbarians", i.e. Patzinak
Turks, Magyars and others.

Up to 500: "True" cataphracts

These 500 made up Phokas’ new-style super-heavy cavalry regiment with fully
armoured horses (McGeer p.217). The horse-armour was a full klibadion made of
hardened ox-hide platelets covering the whole horse to its knees.
The soldier too was covered from head to toe in armour: helmet; several layers
of mail to cover the face; full-body lamellar klibadion to the elbows and knees;
and full metal split-guards protecting the lower arm and lower legs.
Their main weapon was the large mace, Greek bardoukon, ‘sledge-hammer’,
used for smashing through the centre of the enemy line; but they also carried
lance and sword.

300-500: Light skirmishers (Mc Geer p.211).

Dawson, citing PM II.3, explains that the prokoursatores were a medium-cavalry

arm whose job was to harass small groups of the enemy and pursue fugitives.
They could be equipped in a simple klibanion like the horse archer, or they could
wear mail. Their standard armament was a sword, mace and round shield. We
might call them ‘sword-chasers’, as they lacked the lance.

Sub-total say 6,000 cavalry (12 banda of 500). If the Tagmata (*) supplied say
3,000 horsemen, then 3,000 would have come from the Themes.

(*) There were four cavalry regiments in the Tagmata: the Scholai, Exkoubitores,
Vigla and Hikanatoi. John Tzimiskes was to create a fifth, the Athanatoi or
“Immortals” in 970 (Leo Diac. VIII:4; McGeer p.199).
Leo the Deacon describes the Athanatoi as “sheathed in armour”: trans. Talbot
& Sullivan p.38.

By no means all the the infantry wore metallic armour.

6-10,000 basic pike infantry

There is a monograph on this topic: Byzantine Infantryman: Eastern Roman

Empire c.900-1204, by Timothy Dawson & Angus McBride; Osprey Books 2007.

According to the manuals, the common infantryman wore quilt armour and a
turban-like ‘pseudo-helmet’ of felt (McGeer pp.203-4; illustrations by McBride in
Dawson 2007b). This may be what Leo the Deacon is referring to when he uses
kune, a Greek word that otherwise means a cap or helmet of leather (Leo Diac.,
trans. Talbot and Sullivan 2005: 40).
Heath (1979) notes that, although the manuals state that ordinary infantry do
not wear iron helmets, the contemporary illustrations do show infantry typically
with iron helmets and also lamellar iron or mail body armour - often to the waist
but sometimes to the knees (illustration in Dawson, Infantryman 2007b: 21).
Conceivably such illustrations represent elite infantry guardsmen in the capital
rather then the ordinary foot-soldiers of the Themes. It seems that ordinary troops
commonly wore thick (5 cm) padded and quilted cotton, leather, wool and felt
body-armour or ‘arming coats’ (Dawson, Infantryman p. 22).
Their footwear was high boots, at least to the calf and preferably higher (ibid,
Their shields were sometimes quite large: up 140 cm (4 ft 7 in) high, according

to McGeer, Dragon’s Teeth p.205, i.e. covering from above the shoulder to below
the knee. Dawson 2007b: 23 offers the smaller figure of 95 cm (3 ft) as normal.
Parani Images p. 125 list the “great round” infantry shield as having a diameter of
82 cm
Their primary weapon was a very long spear or thin pike of about four metres
or 13 feet, Greek "kontarion", called doru or ‘spear’ in Leo the Deacon. They also
carried “belt-hung” swords, i.e. not hung on a baldric from the shoulder as was
common (McGeer p.206; Dawson 2007: 25). Also Dawson at; accessed 2009.

4,800 Foot archers

About a quarter of the infantry force. No armour. They used heavier bows capable
of sending an arrow over 300 metres, with a killing distance of perhaps 200
metres (McGeer pp.68, 207).
Nikephoros specifies that his archers are to have a small shield, two bows and
two quivers: one of 60 arrows, the other of 40 arrows. As we noted earlier, foot
archers stored their arrows point-down in their quivers.

2,400 Light infantry

Armed with javelins or slings. Javeliners carried two or three casting spears
(akontia, ‘javelins’ or doration, ‘throwing spear’) up to “2.75” m or nine ft long.
The Syllogê Taktikôn says that infantry javelins must be no longer than 2.35 m or
7ft 9in, which is surisingly long; they must have been quite light in their shaft and
heads (Dawson 2007b: 24).
Their shields were smaller than those of the pike infantry (McGeer p.208).
According to Parani, p.126, they were “oblong” (possibly oval) and 94 cm high.

1,200 Heavy infantry pikemen called Menavlatoi or menavliatoi

This type defended the infantry square against cavalry charges (McGeer pp.209,
268). They were armed with thick pikes or heavy poles, used to stab the enemy
horses. The pikes were three to four metres or 10-12 ft in length with a long 20-
inch or 50 cm blade (McGeer’s figures; Dawson 2007b: 61 says just 2.5 metres
The infantry square was symmetrical and seven deep, with spearmen in the
front ranks, foot-archers behind them and the menavliatoi at the rear (Dawson
2007b: 52, 62).

Subtotal 12-16,000 infantry in 12-16 taxiarchies of 1,000: the ideal for Phokas was
12,000 infantry (McGeer p.51; also p.207).

944-959: CONSTANTINE VII ‘Porphyrogenitos’ or

"Purple-born", meaning born to a reigning emperor.
The contemporary Arab poet Mutanabbi refers to him as
Ibn Lãwun, ‘son of Leon’ [Leo VI].

Age 39 in 944. The grandson of Basil I. Born illegitimate, before his

father Leon's (uncanonical) fourth marriage to Zoe Karbonopsina,
Constantine had been co-emperor since 913. After 30 years of being
ruled by others, Constantine was emperor in his own name.

Wife: Helena, daughter of Romanus I Lecapenus.

Constantine was a man of letters, who wrote and commissioned many

important literary and technical works, both before and after becoming
senior emperor. He also re-founded or re-organised the university.

i. He replaced many of the officials who had been supporters of the Lekapenoi,
but generally followed the course set by Romanos.
a. Constantine favoured the family of the Phokas.
b. Yet, he continued the policy of seeking to limit the amount of land the great
aristocracy so as to protect the peasantry.

ii. Constantine VII was the most impressive of several "scholar-emperors".

a. He encouraged the development of art and literature.
b. He personally wrote, or supervised the writing of:
-- de Administrando imperio ["DAI"], a book of instructions on foreign
policy and diplomacy;
-- the Book of Ceremonies (de Ceremoniis), a book providing the details of
imperial ceremony; and
-- the de Thematibus, a book on the administration of the themes.
c. He encouraged and sponsored writing of history, philosophy, and culture in
d. Much of this cultural activity was a conscious attempt to revive classical
models. Nevertheless, most of it had practical purposes as well, especially the
glorification of the state and the maintenance of the dynasty.

1. The sons of Romanos Lecapenus depose their father (Dec 944). The Phokas
family then (Jan 945) deposes the Lekapenos brothers and installs Constantine VII
as sole emperor (Treadgold 1997: 486). The elder Phokas (Bardas), aged 65,
receives the post of Domestic of the East or generalissimo. His sons were made
generals, including the future emperor Nikephoros, who was appointed strategos
of the Anatolikon theme. Cf 953-54.
A coronation portrait of Constantine, being crowned by Christ, survives in the
form of an 8-inch or 20 cm ivory carving (Moscow: Pushkin Museum).

2. Constantine commissioned the scholar-official Joseph Genesius to write a

history of the period from the accession of Leo V to the time of Basil I (it was
completed in 959). Genesius’s history covers the period 813-14 to 886.

Fatimid governor of Sicily: Ibn 'Attaf al-Azdi.

Syria: Ali I, called 'Sayf al-Dawla', Hamdanid ruler of Aleppo and northern Syria.
For most of this period he also held Antioch, which Nicephorus Phocas would
describe as the “third city of the world” (in Leo Diac. 73.12-15). See 946, 950.
We noted earlier that the East-Romans decided (around 945) to disallow Muslim
traders to enter the empire except at two points: land-traders had to enter via
Trebizond in the north and sea traders had to come to the port of Antaliya on the
Meditterranean coast of Asia Minor. This in turn led to (1) a more thorough
collection of taxes by the Byzantine authorities, and (2) the decline of the Muslim
trade centres in the Cilicia-Syria frontier region. The prosperity of Hamdanid
Aleppo and Nisibis also suffered.

945: Arab ‘pirates’ of Provence: After seizing the Great St. Bernard and
other key Alpine passes, the Andalusi forces spread out into the
surrounding valleys. They captured Grenoble* and the lush valley of the
Graisivaudun to the NE of Grenoble in about 945 (until 965).

(*) Lyons, Mt Blanc and Grenoble form the tips of an equilateral triangle.

Lower Mesopotamia: Ahmad b. Buya, first Buyid or Buwayid ruler of Iraq. Ethnic
Persian Shi’ites.
Ahmad took charge of the administration of the Caliphate by taking the position
of amir al-umara, ‘amir of amirs’ or commander in chief. The (Sunni) Caliph Al-

Mustakfi also gave him the honorific title of "Mu'izz al-Daula", ‘honourer of the
dynasty or realm’.

Emissaries of Sayf ad-Dawlah of Aleppo and the Emir of Tarsus visit
Constantinople (May 946) to swap prisoners and make peace. The emperor
receives them in person. The Muslims recovered 2,482 men and women but the
Byzantines held a further 230. These were ransomed with money (Toynbee 1973:

fl. the Muslim writer al-Mas’udi. He was in Damascus in 946 when the Byzantine
imperial secretary and ambassador, the monk John ‘Mysticus’*, arrived at the
court of Muhammad b. Tugh al-Ikshid, the ruler of Syria and Egypt. The purpose
was to negotiate a prisoner exchange. John had been chosen as envoy in part
because of his learning, and he impressed Mas’udi by talking about the Greek and
Roman classical past and philosophy.
In 956 Mas’udi wrote his Tanbih, which included the most intelligent discussion
up to that time of the Rhomaioi empire and of Constantinople in particular. He
recognises that in the last 50 years or so the military pendulum has swung in
favour of the Byzantines, the Muslims now being the slightly weaker side, on both
land and sea (Shboul 1979, chap 6).

(*) Not a name but rather a dignity awarded to the imperial secretary.

From 946/947:
The Abbasid caliphs ceased to exercise independent political power.
In Baghdad, the Buyids seized control under the title Amir al-Umara or
'Supreme Commander' and the first Shi'ite state was established, or rather: the
first in the Middle East. Elsewhere various local amirs or generals now became
dominant, eg in the Hamdanid Emirates at Mosul or Mawsil, in what is now
northern Iraq, and Aleppo (also both Shi’ite). Cf 960.
Gutas p.152 remarks that under the Buyids the interest in translations and the
translated sciences (derived from the ancient Greeks) probably exceeded that
during Abbasid times.

The ‘Most Noble’ Emir

The style of address prescribed in De Administrando Imperio (DAI) reads thus:

“To the First Counsellor (protosymboulon) of the Emir of the Faithful
(Amermoumnes):* a four-solidus gold bull. ‘To the most magnificent
(megaloprepestatos) and most noble (eugenestatos) and distinguished
(peribleptos) [Name] First Counsellor and Guide of the Agarenes [ = Muslims],
from [Name] and [Name] faithful Autocrats, Augusti (autokratores augoustoi) and
Great Emperors (basileis) of the Romans. [Name] and [Name] whose faith is in
Christ the Lord, to the most magnificent, most noble and distinguished [Name]
First Counsellor and Guide of the Agarenes.’"

(*) The Arabic title for the caliph: Amir al-Mu'minin, ‘commander of the

947 (or 945?):

Imperial embassy sent to the court of the Spanish Caliph Abd ar-Rahman III. See
Al Maqqari says that when the Byzantine Emperor’s legates came to Cordoba in
334/945, the caliph went from the az-Zahra palace to the Cordoban palace to
meet them.

c.947: [issued sometime between 945 and 959] -

A ‘novel’ or decree by Constantine sets the value of military land grants.
For thematic cavalry, the land is to be worth 288 nomismata or four pounds of

gold; and for marines, 144 nomismata - two pounds of gold (Heath, p.5; McGeer
Constantine VII in his law of March 947 recommended that thematic cavalry
generally and marines in the Cibyrrhaeot, Aegean, and Samos themes have
property assessed at 288 and 144 nomismata respectively (although rates of 360
and 216 nomismata were soon after recommended; cf. De Caerim. 695). Thus the
land of a stratiotes (thematic cavalryman) corresponded roughly to two zeugaria,
the area that could be cultivated properly with two manned pairs of oxen.
If a full-revenue soldier had an average property worth 288 nomismata, one
can postulate that a poor one, contributing half that amount, would have, as an
average, half the above property and be supported by one zeugarion.
Oikonomides says that it is hard to imagine a cavalry soldier poorer than that, as
we know that those who became completely destitute, were removed from the
regular cavalry and became irregulars ('rustlers', apelatai) or were assigned to
garrisons as footsoldier (citing Lemerle’s Agrarian History, 135). —Oikonomides,
Social Structure of the Byzantine Countryside, at (2009),
Many, probably most, peasants owned property assessed far below that of
theme soldiers. In the Novel of 947, Constantine VII exempted poorer peasants
from repaying the purchase price of their land if their means was below 50
nomismata, i.e. less than 17.5% of the minimum property qualification of a
thematic cavalryman.

1. Byzantine Durres (modern Albania): The Dalmatian communes maintained
squadrons of warships to protect traffic at sea. The squadron based at the
Byzantine port of Durres (Dyrrhachium) in 947 was made up of seven chelandia
(combat-transporter galleys). —Praga, Dalmatia p. 66.

2a. Italy: “Anno 947. Introierunt Ungari in Italiam, et perrexerunt usque

Hydruntum” (Lupus): ‘The Hungarians [Magyars] arrive in Italy and proceed all the
way to Otranto’. This took them in turn through the (Frankish) kingdom of (north)
Italy, the papal state, the principality of Capua-Benevento and the Byzantine
province of Apulia (Longobardia).
The leader of the raid was Taksony, son of the Grand Prince Zoltan.

2b. Italy: Lupus also mentions the Greek commander Platypodus or Platopodius
besieging Cupersanum [modern Conversano near Bari] in 947 (Lupus, cited by A
N Rambaud, Empire Grec au Dixieme Siecle Paris, 1870: 448). The text reads: “Et
Platopidi [sic] sedit in Civitate Cupersani, et fuit eo anno bonus introitus per
omnem terram.” - ‘And Platypodos encamps at (settles in) Conversano, and from
that same year (it) has been (was) well invaded across the whole region (terram)’.
Presumably the town had rebelled against ‘Greek’ rule

947-86: Abbott Alignerus, Benedictine monk in Italy. He rebuilt the abbey

of Monte Cassino.

From 948:
The Levant: The Hamdanids of Aleppo launch a series of military campaigns,
vainly trying to re-establish the dominance of Muslims in the borderlands of
Cilicia-Syria-Mesopotamia. See 950.
Some local Byzantines magnates supported the Aleppine Hamdanids, no d