Ελληνική ιστορία και προϊστορία

Ελληνική ιστορία και προϊστορία
Ελληνική ιστορία και προϊστορία

Σάββατο, 2 Νοεμβρίου 2019

Byzantine Reconquest : The Medieval Greek reconquest of Middle East

The Byzantine reconquest of Cilicia was a series of conflicts and engagements between the forces of the Byzantine Empire under Nikephoros II Phokas and the Hamdanid ruler of Aleppo, Sayf al-Dawla, over control of the region of Cilicia in southeastern Anatolia. Since the Muslim conquests of the 7th century, Cilicia had been a frontier province of the Arab world and a base for regular raids against the Byzantine provinces in Anatolia. By the middle of the 10th century, the fragmentation of the Abbasid Caliphate and the strengthening of Byzantium under the Macedonian dynasty allowed the Byzantines to gradually take the offensive. Under the soldier-emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963–969– ), with the help of the general and future emperor John I Tzimiskes, the Byzantines overcame the resistance of Sayf al-Dawla, who had taken control of the former Abbasid borderlands in northern Syria, and launched a series of aggressive campaigns that in 964–965 recaptured Cilicia. The successful conquest opened the way for the recovery of Cyprus and Antioch over the next few years, and the eclipse of the Hamdanids as an independent power in the region.

By the time Nicephorus became emperor, after his successful seizure of Crete, he had decided on a grander plan to expand Byzantine territory, rather than merely sack the Arab cities and withdraw. He began his invasion in Autumn 964 and set out with an army of 40,000. He began by spreading out his lighter infantry throughout the Cilician countryside and ordered them to loot and plunder the villages in order to ensure a general atmosphere of confusion and disarray among al-Dawla's administration. Nicephorus then marched the main segment of his forces, the Imperial Army plus the forces of the themes of Asia Minor, through Arab territory and began to capture major fortresses and cities. He took Adana, Anazarbus, and around twenty other fortified cities. He then marched on to Mopsuestia. Tarsus and Mopsuestia were the two largest remain fortresses in the region. Nicephorus quickly realized, after bombarding the city, that only a prolonged siege would manage to force Mopsuestia to capitulate. Soon, with the coming of winter, Nicephorus retreated to his regional capital of Caesarea, where he passed the season preparing for next year's campaigning season on the sieges of Mopsuestia and Tarsus. At the spring of 965, Nicephorus once again collected his forces and departed for Cilicia. This time, however, Nicephorus headed strait for Tarsus. There he met the garrison outside of the walls of the city and engaged it. He decisively defeated the army and drove them back into the fortress. He then blockaded the city, raided the surrounding countryside and left for Mopsuestia, leaving the city besieged, blockade, and surrounded by destruction and desolation. He began to in turn siege Mopsuestia, bombarding the city with archers and siege engines. He then employed a similar strategy as used in the Siege of Chandax only four years earlier. He instructed his engineers to dig under the city fortifications while the Arabs were distracted and collapse the weakest perceived section of the wall. This worked, and soon the Byzantines began to pour into the city from the destroyed section. The city was then looted and razed, while Nicephorus deported all of its inhabitants. He then returned to Tarsus where the populace, after hearing of the destruction of Mopsuestia, sought terms with the Greeks. They handed over the city to Nicephorus in exchange for the safe passage of migrants seeking to emigrate to Syria, which he granted. With the capture of these two cities, Cilicia once again came under the suzerainty of Byzantium, and Nicephorus returned to Constantinople. It was around this time that on Cyprus the Byzantine general Niketas Chalkoutzes staged a coup. The nature of the circumstances of this coup are dubious due to a lack of sources, but it is clear that the Abbasid authorities had no preconceived notions of it as it was incredibly successful. The island was returned to the Byzantines and reintegrated into the Theme System.

Following the conquest of Crete, Nikephoros soon returned to the east with a large and well-equipped army and almost immediately marched into Cilicia. In February 962, he captured Anazarbos, while the major city of Tarsus ceased to recognize the Hamdanid Emir of Aleppo, Sayf al-Dawla. Nikephorus continued to ravage the Cilician countryside, defeating the governor of Tarsus, ibn al-Zayyat in open battle; al-Zayyat later committed suicide on account of the loss. He soon returned to the regional capital of Caesarea. Upon the beginning of the new campaigning season, al-Dawla entered the Byzantine Empire and began to conduct raids. This strategy, however, would prove fatal for him, as it left Aleppo dangerously undefended. Nikephoros soon took the city of Manbij. In December, an army split between Nikephoros and John I Tzimiskes marched towards Aleppo, quickly routing an opposing force led by Naja al-Kasaki. Al-Dawla's force caught up with the Byzantines, but he too was routed, and Nikephoros and Tzimiskes entered Aleppo on December 24. The loss of the city would prove to be both a strategic and moral disaster for the Hamdanids. It was probably on these campaigns that Nikephoros earned the sobriquet, "The Pale Death of the Saracens". During the capture of Aleppo, the Byzantine army took possession of 390,000 silver dinars, 2,000 camels, and 1,400 mules.

Following the quelling of some civil unrest in the spring of 966, Nicephorus once again set out for the east. Nicephorus' strategy was not one of traditional Byzantine origin, but combined the tactics used by the Arabs with his own strategy. He largely avoided open confrontation, pillaging, raiding and capturing cities where he could. He marched east with his army from Constantinople, joining up with his new forces as he passed through Byzantine Cilicia, and advanced onto Syria. Nicephorus soon led his army to Antioch, where he set up a light siege and began to raid the countryside. In the fall of 967, Nicephorus captured many forts in southern Syria, and eventually came to Tripoli. He wished to meet up with his navy there, but the winds and tides were uncooperative and he could not besiege the city, and instead marched north to the fortress of Arqa, which he soon captured and looted. It was around this time in 967 that al-Dawla died. His successor, Sa'd al-Dawla, was a weak and ineffectual ruler, and by the time he ascended the throne, Hamdanid territory had become a mere battlefield on which the Byzantines and Fatimids could settle their disputes. Nicephorus did not cease the pillage of Syria until the spring of 969 when he returned to Constantinople. However, he left a large garrison in a citadel of his construction outside of Antioch in order to maintain the siege. Around a year later, Byzantine forces retook Antioch and cemented Byzantine control of the region. 
From 964 to 965, Nikephoros led an army of 40,000 men which conquered Cilicia and conducted raids in Upper Mesopotamia and Syria, while the patrician Niketas Chalkoutzes recovered Cyprus. In the spring of 964, Nikephorus headed east. During the summer he captured Anazarbos and Adana before withdrawing. Later that year Nikephoros attempted to quickly take Mopsuestia, but failed, returning to Caesarea. It was around this time that Niketas Chalkoutzes instigated a coup on Cyprus, which at the time was a shared condominium between the Byzantines and the Arabs. In the summer of 965, the conquest of Cilicia began in earnest. Nikephorus and Tzimiskes seized Mopsuestia July 13, while Leo Phokas invested Tarsus and Nikephoros and Tzimiskes arrived soon after. Nikephoros won a pitched battle against the Tarsiots, routing their forces with his "ironclad horsemen", referencing the Byzantine cataphracts. Within a fortnight, Tarsus surrendered on August 16th to Nikephoros who allowed the inhabitants to leave the city unharmed but plundered the city. With the fall of these two strongholds, Cilicia was in the hands of the Byzantines. In 967 or 968, Nikephoros annexed the Armenian state of Taron by diplomacy. In 968, Nikephoros conducted a raid which reached the city of Tripoli, raiding and sacking most of the fortresses along his path. His aim was to cut off Antioch from its allies: the city was unsuccessfully blockaded two times in 966 and 968, and so the emperor decided to take it by hunger (so as not to damage to city) and left a detachment (a taxiarchy) of 1500 men in the fort of Baghras, which lies on the road from Antioch to Alexandretta. The commander of the fort, the patrikios Michael Bourtzes, disobeyed the emperor's orders and took Antioch with a surprise attack, supported by the troops of the stratopedarch Petros, eunuch of the Phokas family. Bourtzes was disgraced for his insubordination, and later joined the plot that killed Phokas.

The Syrian campaigns of John Tzimiskes were a series of campaigns undertaken by the Byzantine emperor John I Tzimiskes against the Fatimid Caliphate in the Levant and against the Abbasid Caliphate in Syria. Following the weakening and collapse of the Hamdanid Dynasty of Aleppo, much of the Near East lay open to Byzantium, and, following the assassination of Nikephoros II Phokas, the new emperor, John I Tzimiskes, was quick to engage the newly successful Fatimid Dynasty over control of the near east and its important cities, namely Antioch, Aleppo, and Caesarea. He also engaged the Emir of Mosul, who was under the suzerainty of the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad, over control of parts of Upper Mesopotamia (Jazira). Relations between the Byzantines in Greece and Asia Minor and the Fatimids in Egypt had taking a steep downward turn halfway through the 10th Century. Following the disintegration of the Hamdanid Dynasty in Aleppo, tensions between the two empires continued to inflate until conflict became inevitable. However, the Byzantines looked not only to expand into the Levant and Syria, following their conquest of Cilicia, but also too expand further east into Armenia and Upper Mesopotamia, modern Iraq, in order to unite with the native Christian peoples there and to cripple the power of the Abbasid Caliph, who was nominally under the suzerainty of the Buyids. Late in 969, John Tzimiskes, a prominent leader of the Byzantine army, assassinated Nikephoros Phokas, then the Byzantine Emperor, and ascended the throne. While John had been fighting in Bulgaria, the Fatimids managed to break into the Byzantine Empire itself and laid siege to Antioch, which had been captured from the Hamdanids six years earlier. Soon, by spring 971, an invading force of Qarmatians into Fatimid Syria forced the Egyptian army too withdraw. The failure of the Fatimids to take Antioch proved the stability of Byzantium's eastern front, and, later in 971, John planned to initiate yet another eastern campaign. John left Constantinople in Spring 972 and crossed the Euphrates in October of the same year. John quickly besieged and entered the city of Nisibis which he used to stage numerous raids on the surrounding countryside. The Emir of Mosul, who was a suzerain of the Abbasid court at Baghdad, Abu Taghlib, soon agreed to pay annual tribute to the Byzantines. John then quickly moved towards Mayyafariqin, but he was unable to take the city before the campaigning season ended.

As the campaigning season ended, John appointed to the position of Domestic of the East an Armenian named Mleh; his job was to maintain stability at the frontier. During the winter of 972–3, Mleh collected a strong force of Byzantine soldiers with the objective of putting pressure on Abu Taghlib. He quickly set out for the border town of Amida, while Taghlib responded by sending an army under his brother Hibat Allah to challenge the invaders. Mleh's army was swiftly destroyed with a few survivors entering the captivity of Taghlib, including Mleh, who would die in captivity by March 974. The defeat of Mleh was significant, as it undermined the Byzantine's position with the Armenians in terms of securing a possible alliance, as well as losing their annual tribute from Mosul. The defeat of Mleh would also cause a rift to form between Taghlib and the Caliph in Baghdad, Al-Muti, on the subject of how best to deal with the threat they posed. The Armenians soon held a conference, and, after discussing with Byzantine envoys, formed a deal to accompany the Byzantines in a joint invasion of Syria and Mesopotamia in Spring 974, John marched east and joined with the Armenian forces at the capital of Taron, Muş. John swiftly advanced through Taghlib's lands, accepting tribute from Amida and Mayyafariqin in turn; he soon passed Nisibis, which was then deserted. John hoped to eventually advance on Mosul, and perhaps even Baghdad itself, thereby breaking the power of the Arabs in Mesopotamia whilst also increasing his legitimacy at home. He soon advanced into Jazira. Later that year, however, John received news from across the fertile crescent: the Fatimids had crushed the Qarmatians in Syria and were now advancing up the Levant towards Antioch, having already taken Tripoli and Beirut. John realized that the risk posed to Antioch and Cilicia was far greater than any gains to be had from possessing Baghdad, and so he soon headed west, splitting his army in two. The Armenians were sent home and the Byzantines went on to resupply and refresh the garrison at Antioch. John then returned to Constantinople to celebrate a Triumph, and returned to the east in Spring 975. John, once again, marched out of Antioch and down the Orontes, quickly taking Homs. From there he besieged and took Baalbek, and then advanced on Damascus, whose ruler, Amir Aftakin, a refugee from Baghdad who had recognized Fatimid suzerainty, surrendered his lands to John. John then marched south, taking Galilee, Tiberias, and Nazareth. Envoys from Acre soon reached John's camp on Mt. Tabor accepting a Byzantine garrison. Envoys also arrived from Ramleh and Jerusalem expressing their desire for John to take their cities. He soon took Caesarea, which would prove to be the limit of his advance. At this point John was far too concerned with the Fatimids' continual hold on the Levantine coast to advance further into Palestine. Important cities such as Tripoli, Sidon, and Byblos were still in Egyptian hands, and the clear threat these cities' garrisons posed to the integrity of Byzantine supply lines forced John to conquer these territories before advancing further. He proceeded to march to the coast and take Beirut after a fierce battle. He then marched north and took Byblos, heading towards Tripoli from there. Despite putting up a fierce siege and ravaging the countryside, John was unable to take the city. From there he marched north virtually unopposed, taking Balamea, Gabala, and numerous other cities. At this point, John now controlled all of the coast from Antioch to Caesarea, except for Tripoli. John then marched inland, mopping up any last pockets of resistance, including the cities of Burzuya and Sahyun. Governors and garrisons were appointed for the conquered cities, the administration arranged, and John returned to Antioch in September 975.

Basil II ( c. 958 – 1025), nicknamed the Bulgar Slayer was senior Byzantine Emperor for almost 50 years (976 – 1025), having been a junior colleague to other emperors since 960. He and his brother Constantine were named as co-rulers before their father Romanos II died in 963. The throne went to two generals, Nikephoros Phokas (r. 963–969) then John Tzimiskes (r. 969–976), before Basil became senior emperor. Once the internal strife was quelled, Basil turned his attention to the Empire's other enemies. The Byzantine civil wars had weakened the Empire's position in the east, and the gains of Nikephoros II and John I had nearly been lost to the Fatimid Caliphate. In 987–988, a seven-year truce with the Fatimids was signed; it stipulated an exchange of prisoners, the recognition of the Byzantine emperor as protector of Christians under Fatimid rule and of the Fatimid Caliph as protector of Muslims under Byzantine control, and the replacement of the name of the Abbasid caliph with that of the Fatimid caliph in the Friday prayer in the mosque at Constantinople. This lasted until the long-time vizier Yaqub ibn Killis died in 991. Fatimid caliph Al-Aziz Billah chose to pursue a more aggressive stance in Syria and appointed Manjutakin as governor of Damascus.

Encouraged by the defectors after the death of emir Sa'd al-Dawla, Al-Aziz decided to renew his attacks on the Hamdanid Emirate of Aleppo, a Byzantine protectorate, perhaps expecting Basil would not interfere. Manjutakin invaded the emirate, defeated a Byzantine force under the doux of Antioch Michael Bourtzes in June 992, and laid siege to Aleppo. The city easily resisted. In early 993, after thirteen months of campaigning, a lack of supplies forced Manjutakin to return to Damascus. In 994, Manjutakin resumed his offensive and in September scored a major victory at the Battle of the Orontes against Bourtzes. Bourtzes' defeat forced Basil to intervene personally in the East; with his army, he rode through Asia Minor to Aleppo in sixteen days, arriving in April 995. Basil's sudden arrival and the exaggeration of his army's strength circulating in the Fatimid camp caused panic in the Fatimid army, especially because Manjutakin, expecting no threat, had ordered his cavalry horses to be dispersed around the city for pasture. Despite having a considerably larger and well-rested army, Manjutakin was at a disadvantage. He burned his camp and retreated to Damascus without battle. The Byzantines besieged Tripoli unsuccessfully and occupied Tartus, which they refortified and garrisoned with Armenian troops. Al-Aziz now prepared to take to the field in person against the Byzantines and initiated large-scale preparations but they were abandoned upon his death.

Warfare between the two powers continued as the Byzantines supported an anti-Fatimid uprising in Tyre. In 998, the Byzantines under Damian Dalassenos, the successor of Bourtzes, launched an attack on Apamea but the Fatimid general Jaysh ibn al-Samsama defeated them in battle on 19 July 998. This defeat drew Basil back into the conflict; he arrived in Syria in October 999 and remained there for three months. Basil's troops raided as far as Baalbek, placed a garrison at Shaizar, and burnt three minor forts in the vicinity of Abu Qubais, Masyath, and 'Arqah. The siege of Tripoli in December failed while Hims was not threatened. Basil's attention was diverted to developments in Georgia following the murder of David III Kuropalates; he departed for Cilicia in January and dispatched another embassy to Cairo. In 1000, a ten-year truce was concluded between the two states. For the remainder of the reign of Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (r. 996–1021), relations remained peaceful as al-Hakim was more interested in internal affairs. Even the acknowledgement of Fatimid suzerainty by Abu Muhammad Lu'lu' al-Kabir of Aleppo in 1004 and the Fatimid-sponsored installment of Aziz al-Dawla as the city's emir in 1017 did not lead to a resumption of hostilities, especially because al-Kabir continued to pay tribute to the Byzantines and al-Dawla quickly began acting as an independent ruler. Al-Hakim's persecution of Christians in his realm and especially the 1009 destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at his orders strained relations and, along with Fatimid interference in Aleppo, provided the main focus of Fatimid–Byzantine diplomatic relations until the late 1030s.

Following the loss of Cilicia and Antioch, the Hamdanid state began to deteriorate rapidly. A string of rebellions would fracture and crush the dynasty's power, and the state would barely last to the end of the century before being vassalized and subsequently dissolved by the Fatimid Dynasty of Egypt, which would in turn rise to dominate the Levant and the near east for centuries. Byzantium, on the other hand, would continue to expand under the successive emperors Nicephorus, John II Tzimiskes, and Basil II. In fact, the Byzantines would see nearly unchecked expansion for over a century from the conquests of Cilicia and Antioch, only finally being subdued by the Seljuk Empire at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071.
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