Pirenne, Henri: The Expansion of Islam in the Mediterranean Basin [1]

pro-europa.eu 3 December 2012

Reflections on our History
Belgian historian Henri Pirenne
Islam and the Carolingians
The Expansion of Islam in the Mediterranean Basin

From H.Pirenne’s «Mohammed & Charlemagne», Dover Publications, INC. Mineola, New York.

1. The Islamic Invasion

Nothing could be more suggestive, nothing could better enable us to comprehend the expansion of Islam in the 7th century, than to compare its effect upon the Roman Empire with that of the Germanic invasions. These latter invasions were the climax of a situation which was as old as the Empire, and indeed even older, and which had weighed upon it more or less heavily throughout its history. When the Empire, its frontiers penetrated, abandoned the struggle, the invaders promptly allowed themselves to become absorbed in it, and as far as possible they maintained its civilization, and entered into the community upon which this civilization was based.

On the other hand, before the Mohammedan epoch the Empire had had practically no dealings with the Arabian peninsula.(1) It contented itself with building a wall to protect Syria against the nomadic bands of the desert, much as it had built a wall in the north of Britain in order to check the invasions of the Picts; but this Syrian limes, some remains of which may still be seen on crossing the desert, was in no way comparable to that of the Rhine or the Danube.(2)

The Empire had never regarded this as one of its vulnerable points, nor had it ever massed there any large proportion of its military forces. It was a frontier of inspection, which was crossed by the caravans that brought perfumes and spices. The Persian Empire, another of Arabia's neighbours, had taken the same precaution. After all, there was nothing to fear from the nomadic Bedouins of the Peninsula, whose civilization was still in the tribal stage, whose religious beliefs were hardly better than fetichism, and who spent their time in making war upon one another, or pillaging the caravans that travelled from south to north, from Yemen to Palestine, Syria and the Peninsula of Sinai, passing through Mecca and Yathreb (the future Medina).

Preoccupied by their secular conflict, neither the Roman nor the Persian Empire seems to have had any suspicion of the propaganda by which Mohammed, amidst the confused conflicts of the tribes, was on the point of giving his own people a religion which it would presently cast upon the world, while imposing its own dominion. The Empire was already in deadly danger when John of Damascus was still regarding Islam as a sort of schism, of much the same character as previous heresies.(3)

When Mohammed died, in 632, there was as yet no sign of the peril which was to manifest itself in so overwhelming a fashion a couple of years later. No measures had been taken to defend the frontier. It is evident that whereas the Germanic menace had always attracted the attention of the Emperors, the Arab onslaught took them by surprise. In a certain sense, the expansion of Islam was due to chance, if we can give this name to the unpredictable consequence of a combination of causes. The success of the attack is explained by the exhaustion of the two Empires which marched with Arabia, the Roman and the Persian, at the end of the long struggle between them, which had at last culminated in the victory of Heraclius over Chosroes (d. 627).(4)

[Emperor Charlemagne and his army fighting the Saracens in Spain.] Byzantium had just reconquered its prestige, and its future seemed assured by the fall of the secular enemy and the restoration to the Empire of Syria, Palestine and Egypt. The Holy Cross, which had long ago been carried off, was now triumphantly restored to Constantinople by the conqueror. The sovereign of India sent his felicitations, and the king of the Franks, Dagobert, concluded a perpetual peace with him. After this it was natural to expect that Heraclius would continue the Occidental policy of Justinian. It was true that the Lombards had occupied a portion of Italy, and the Visigoths, in 624, recaptured from Byzantium its last outposts in Spain; but what was that compared with the tremendous recovery which had just been accomplished in the Orient?

However, the effort, which was doubtless excessive, had exhausted the Empire. The provinces which Persia had just surrendered were suddenly wrested from the Empire by Islam. Heraclius (610-641) was doomed to be a helpless spectator of the first onslaught of this new force which was about to disconcert and bewilder the Western world.(5)

The Arab conquest, which brought confusion upon both Europe and Asia, was without precedent. The swiftness of its victory is comparable only with that by which the Mongol Empires of Attila, Jenghiz Khan and Tamerlane were established. But these Empires were as ephemeral as the conquest of Islam was lasting. This religion still has its faithful today in almost every country where it was imposed by the first Caliphs. The lightning-like rapidity of its diffusion was a veritable miracle as compared with the slow progress of Christianity.

By the side of this irruption, what were the conquests, so long delayed, of the Germans, who, after centuries of effort, had succeeded only in nibbling at the edge of "Romania"?

The Arabs, on the other hand, took possession of whole sections of the crumbling Empire. In 634 they seized the Byzantine fortress of Bothra (Bosra) in Transjordania; in 635 Damascus fell before them; in 636 the battle of Yarmok gave them the whole of Syria; in 637 or 638 Jerusalem opened its gates to them, while at the same time their Asiatic conquests included Mesopotamia and Persia. Then it was the turn of Egypt to be attacked; and shortly after the death of Heraclius (641) Alexandria was taken, and before long the whole country was occupied. Next the invasion, still continuing, submerged the Byzantine possessions in North Africa.

All this may doubtless be explained by the fact that the invasion was unexpected, by the disorder of the Byzantine armies, disorganized and surprised by a new method of fighting, by the religious and national discontent of the Monophysites and Nestorians of Syria, to whom the Empire had refused to make any concessions, and of the Coptic Church of Egypt, and by the weakness of the Persians.(6) But all these reasons are insufficient to explain so complete a triumph. The intensity of the results were out of all proportion to the numerical strength of the conquerors.(7)

Here the great problem is to determine why the Arabs, who were certainly not more numerous than the Germans, were not, like the latter, absorbed by the populations of the regions which they had conquered, whose civilization was superior to their own. There is only one reply to this question, and it is of the moral order. While the Germans had nothing with which to oppose the Christianity of the Empire, the Arabs were exalted by a new faith. It was this, and this alone, that prevented their assimilation. For in other respects they were not more prejudiced than the Germans against the civilization of those whom they had conquered. On the contrary, they assimilated themselves to this civilization with astonishing rapidity; they learnt science from the Greeks, and art from the Greeks and the Persians. In the beginning, at all events, they were not even fanatical, and they did not expect to make converts of their subjects. But they required them to be obedient to the one God, Allah, and His prophet Mahommed, and, since Mahommed was an Arab, to Arabia. Their universal religion was at the same time a national religion. They were the servants of God.

"Islam" signifies resignation or submission to God, and "Musulman" means "subject." Allah is the One God, and it is therefore logical that all His servants should regard it as their duty to enforce obedience to Allah upon the unbelievers. What they proposed was not, as many have thought, their conversion, but their subjection.(8) And this subjection they enforced wherever they went. After the conquest they asked nothing better than to appropriate the science and art of the infidels as part of their booty; they would cultivate them to the glory of Allah. They would even adopt the institutions of the unbelievers in so far as these were useful to them. For that matter, they were forced to do so by their own conquest. In governing the Empire which they had founded they could no longer rely on their tribal institutions; just as the Germans were unable to impose theirs upon the Roman Empire. But they differed from the Germans in this: wherever they went, they ruled. The conquered were their subjects; they alone were taxed; they were excluded from the community of the faithful. The barrier was insuperable. No fusion was possible between the conquered populations and the Musulmans. What a contrast between them and Theodoric, who placed himself at the service of those he had conquered, and sought to assimilate himself to them!

In the case of the Germans, the conqueror spontaneously approached the conquered. With the Arabs it was the other way about; the conquered had to approach the conquerors, and they could do so only by serving Allah, as the conquerors served Him, and by reading the Koran, like the conquerors; and therefore by learning the language, the sacred and consummate language of the conquerors.

There was no propaganda, nor was any such pressure applied as was exerted by the Christians after the triumph of the Church. "If God had so desired" says the Koran "He would have made all humanity a single people," and it expressly condemns the use of violence in dealing with error.(9) It requires only obedience to Allah, the outward obedience of inferior, degraded and despicable beings, who are tolerated, but who live in abjection. It was this that the infidel found so intolerable and demoralizing. His faith was not attacked; it was simply ignored; and this was the most effective means of detaching him from it and leading him to Allah, who would not only restore his human dignity, but would open to him the gates of the Musulman State. It was because his religion compelled the conscientious Musulman to treat the infidel as a subject that the infidel came to him, and in coming to him broke with his country and his people.(10)

The German became Romanized as soon as he entered "Romania." The Roman, on the contrary, became Arabized as soon as he was conquered by Islam.(11) It is true that well into the Middle Ages certain small communities of Copts, Nestorians and, above all, Jews, survived in the midst of the Musulman world. Nevertheless, the whole environment was profoundly transformed. There was a clean cut: a complete break with the past. Wherever his power was effective, it was intolerable to the new master that any influence should escape the control of Allah. His law, derived from the Koran, was substituted for Roman law and his language for Greek and Latin.

When it was converted to Christianity the Empire, so to speak, underwent a change of soul; when it was converted to Islam both its soul and its body were transformed. The change was as great in civil as in religious society.

With Islam a new world was established on those Mediterranean shores which had formerly known the syncretism of the Roman civilization. A complete break was made, which was to continue even to our own day. Henceforth two different and hostile civili-zations existed on the shores of Mare Nostrum. And although in our own days the European has subjected the Asiatic, he has not assimilated him. The sea which had hitherto been the centre of Christianity became its frontier. The Mediterranean unity was shattered.

The first expansion slowed down a little under the Caliph Othman, and his assassination in 656 gave rise to a political and religious crisis which continued until the accession of Moawiya in 660.

It was quite in the natural order of things that a power endowed with an expansive force like that of Islam should impose itself upon the entire basin of the great inland sea. And it did indeed endeavour to do so. From the second half of the 7th century it aimed at becoming a maritime power in regions where Byzantium, under Constans II (641-668), was supreme. The Arabian ships of the Caliph Moawiya (660) began to invade Byzantine waters. They occupied the island of Cyprus, and off the coast of Asia Minor they won a naval victory over the Emperor Constans II himself. They seized the island of Rhodes, and advanced upon Crete and Sicily.(12) Converting the port of Cyzicus into a naval base, they again and again besieged Constantinople, which successfully opposed them, making use of Greek fire, until in 677 they abandoned the attempt.(13)

The advance towards Africa, begun by the Emir of Egypt, Ibn Saud, in 647, ended in a victory over the Exarch Gregory. However, the fortresses built in the reign of Justinian had not succumbed, and the Berbers, forgetting their ancient hostility to the Romans, co-operated with the latter in opposing the invaders. Once more the importance of Africa was revealed, whose conquest by the Vandals had formerly provoked the defensive decline of the Empire in the West. On Africa depended the security of Sicily and Italy, and the sea passage to the West. It was doubtless in order that he might defend Africa that Constans II, after the last visit to Rome ever paid by a Byzantine Emperor, established himself in Syracuse.

At this moment the disorders of the Caliphate brought about a respite. But with the accession of Moawiya in 660 the struggle was resumed. In 664 another great razzia inflicted a fresh defeat upon the Byzantines. The army which they had sent to Hadrumut was defeated and the fortress of Djelula captured, after which the invaders withdrew.(14) But in order to counter any further offensives of the Byzantines, who held the cities on the coast, and also to contain the Berbers of the Aures range, Okba-ben-Nafi, in 670, founded Kairouan, to be the stronghold of Islam until the end of time.(15) It was from Kairouan that raids, attended by massacres, were made against the Berbers, who still held out in their mountains. In 681 Okba, by a formidable thrust, reached the Atlantic. But a counter-offensive of the Berbers and the Romans swept the Arabs back; the Berber prince Kossayla entered Kairouan as a conqueror, and the Berbers who had embraced Islam hastened to abjure it.(16) It was now the turn of the Byzantines to take the offensive. Defeated at Kairouan, Kossayla's Musulmans fell back upon Barka, where they were surprised and massacred by a body of Byzantine troops which had landed there (689). Their leader was killed in the battle.(17)

This victory, which restored the coast of Africa to the Byzantines, threatened the whole Arab invasion of the Mediterranean. The Arabs, in desperation, returned to the charge, and Carthage was taken by assault (695). The Emperor Leontius realized the peril, and equipped a fleet, which, under the command of the patrician John, succeeded in retaking the city.

In the meantime the Berbers, gathering round the mysterious queen known as the Kahina, defeated the Arab army near Tebessa and drove it back into Tripolitana.(18)

But in the following year Hassan returned to the attack and captured Carthage (698), whose conquest was on this occasion final. The inhabitants had fled. The ancient city was immediately replaced by a new capital, at the head of the gulf: Tunis, whose harbour—Goletta—was to become the great base of Islam in the Mediterranean. The Arabs, who at last had a fleet, dispersed the Byzantine vessels. Henceforth they had the control of the sea. Before long the Greeks retained only the fortress of Septem (Ceuta) with a few fragments of Mauritania Secunda and Tingitana, Majorca, and a few cities in Spain. It seems that they erected these scattered possessions into an exarchate, which survived ten years longer.(19)

This was the end of the Berber resistance under the Queen Kahina. Captured in the Aurcs mountains, she was massacred, and her head was sent to the Caliph.

In the following years the Arabs set their stamp upon Africa. Musa Ibn Nosair subdued Morocco and imposed Islam on the Berber tribes.(20)

It was these new converts who were shortly to conquer Spain. As a matter of fact, Spain had already been harried, simultaneously with Sardinia and Sicily. This was the necessary consequence of the occupation of Africa. In 675 the Arabs had attacked Spain by sea, but had been repulsed by the Visigothic fleet.(21) The Straits of Gibraltar could not hold the conquerors in check, and the Visigoths were aware of the fact. In 694 King Egica accused the Jews of conspiring with the Musulmans, and it is possible, indeed, that the persecutions to which they had been subjected had led them to hope that the Musulmans would conquer the country. In 710 the King of Toledo, Achila, dispossessed by Rodrigo, Duke of Baetica, fled to Morocco, where he doubtless solicited the aid of the Musulmans. The latter, at all events, took advantage of the situation, for in 711 a Berber army, whose strength is estimated at 7,000, crossed the Straits under the command of Tarik. Rodrigo being defeated at the first encounter, all the cities opened their gates to the conqueror, who, reinforced in 712 by a second army, finally took possession of the country. In 713 Musa, the governor of North Africa, proclaimed the sovereignty of the Caliph of Damascus in the capital of Toledo.(22)

But why stop at Spain? After all, the country merged into the Narbonnaise. No sooner was the Peninsula completely subdued than in 720 the Musulmans captured Narbonne, and then laid siege to Toulouse, thus encroaching on the Frankish kingdom. The king, who was powerless, did nothing. Duke Eudes of Aquitaine drove them back in 721, but Narbonne still remained in their hands. And from Narbonne, in 725, a new and formidable attack was launched. Carcassonne was taken, and the knights of the Crescent advanced as far as Autun, which was sacked on August 22nd, 725.

In 732 another razzia was launched by the Emir of Spain, Abd-er-Rhaman, who, setting out from Pampeluna, crossed the Pyrenees and marched on Bordeaux. Eudes, defeated, took refuge with Charles Martel. Owing to the manifest impotence of the Midi, it was from the North that the final reaction against the Musulmans came. Charles marched with Eudes to meet the invader and encountered him in the same gap near Poitiers where Clovis had formerly overcome the Visigoths. The battle took place in October 732. Abd-er-Rhaman was defeated and slain,(23) but the danger was not averted. The threat was now to Provence; that is to say, to the coast. In 735 the Arab governor of Narbonne, Jussef Ibn Abd-er-Rhaman, seized the city of Aries, with the help of accomplices whom he found in the surrounding country.(24)

Then, in 737, the Arabs captured Avignon, with the help of Maucontus, and ravaged the country, as far as Lyons, and also in Aquitaine. Charles once more marched against them. He recaptured Avignon, and proceeded to attack Narbonne, before which he defeated an Arab army which had come by sea in aid of their co-religionists, but he failed to take the city. He returned to Austrasia with an immense booty, for he had taken, destroyed and burned Maguclonne, Agda, Beziers and Nimes.(25)

These victories did not prevent the Arabs from making a fresh incursion into Provence in 739. This time they threatened the Lombards also; but Charles, with the aid of the latter, once more repulsed them.(26)

What followed is obscure; but it seems that the Arabs once more subdued the Provencal coast, and maintained their hold upon it for some years. Pippin expelled them in 752, but attacked Narbonne in vain.(27) He did not finally take the city until 759. This victory marks, if not the end of the expeditions against Provence, at least the end of the Musulman expansion in the West of Europe.(28) Just as Constantinople resisted the great attack of 718, and thereby protected the Orient, so here the intact forces of Austrasia, the vassals of the Carolingians, preserved the Occident.

However, while in the Orient the Byzantine fleet succeeded in driving Islam from the waters of the Aegean, in the Occident it obtained control of the Tyrrhenean Sea.

There was a succession of expeditions against Sicily, in 720, 727, 728, 730, 732, 752, 753; interrupted for a time by civil disturbances in Africa,(28a) they were resumed in 827 under the Aghlabite Emir Siadet Allah I, who profited by a revolt against the Emperor to attempt a sudden attack upon Syracuse. An Arab fleet left Susa in 827, but the Byzantines continued the war with energy, and a Byzantine fleet raised the siege of Syracuse.

The Musulmans received reinforcements from Spain, and then from Africa. In August-September 831 they took Palermo after a year's siege, thus acquiring a defensive base in Sicily. Despite this check, the Byzantines continued a vigorous resistance both on sea and on land. They could not, however, prevent the Musulmans, assisted by the Neapolitans, from capturing Messina in 843. In 850 the seat of the Byzantine resistance was carried, and Syracuse, after a heroic defence, succumbed on May 21st, 878.

While the Byzantine Empire was endeavouring to save Sicily, Charlemagne was at grips with the Musulmans on the frontiers of Spain. In 778 he despatched an army which was defeated before Saragossa, and whose rearguard was massacred at Roncesvalles. He then adopted a defensive attitude, until the Saracens invaded Septimania (793), when he established the Spanish March (795)(28b), which his son Louis, king of Aquitaine, employed as his base when seizing Barcelona in 801. After various fruitless expeditions, and in particular one which was led by the missus Ingobert in 810, Tortosa also fell into Louis' hands in 1811. On the other hand, he failed to take Huesca, and he advanceed no farther.(28c)

The truth is that Charlemagne encountered an extremely vigorous resistance in Spain; and Eginhard exaggerates when he declares that Charlemagne occupied the whole country as far as the Ebro. In reality he reached the river only at two points—in the upper valley, to the south of Navarre; and in the lower valley, at Tortosa, if we can believe that this city was really occupied.(28d)

That Charlemagne was able to derive so little advantage from the taking of Barcelona was due to the fact that he had no fleet. He could do nothing against the Saracens, who were in possession of Tunis, dominated the Spanish coast, and held the islands. He attempted to defend the Balcarics, and won some ephemeral victories there. In 798 these islands were ravaged by the Musulmans.(28e) In the following year, in response to the appeals of the inhabitants, Charlemagne sent them some troops, which were doubtless transported on the islanders' vessels. This military demonstration appears to have been efficacious, for the Arab ensigns were sent to the king as trophies.(28f) We do not find, however, that the Franks continued in occupation of these islands.

Charlemagne, in fact, was almost constantly at war in the region of the Pyrenees. The upheavals which were disturbing the Musulman world favoured his operations. The establishment of the Omayyad Caliphate of Cordova in 765 in opposition to the Caliphate of the Abbasids of Baghdad was advantageous to the Franks, since it was in the interest of each of these powers to treat them with consideration.

Charlemagne had but little success in other parts of the Mediterranean. In 806 the Saracens seized the little island of Pantellaria and sold the monks whom they found there into slavery in Spain. They were ransomed by Charles.(28g) That same year Pippin, his son, King of Italy, attempted to drive the Saracens out of Corsica, where they had established themselves. He equipped a fleet, and according to the Carolingian annalists he made himself master of the island. But in the following year it had once more fallen into the hands of the enemy.(28h)

Charles immediately sent the constable Burchard against them, who forced them to withdraw after a battle in which they lost thirteen ships. But once more the victory was ephemeral, for in 808 Pope Leo III, speaking to Charles of the measures which he was taking for the defence of the Italian coast, begged him to make himself responsible for Corsica.(29) As a matter of fact, we find that in 809 and 810 the Saracens occupied Corsica and Sardinia.

The situation was aggravated when Africa, the victim of endemic disturbances, was organized under the dynasty of the Aghlabites, who acknowledged the Caliph of Baghdad, Haroun-al-Raschid.

In 812 the Saracens of Africa, despite the arrival of a Greek fleet, commanded by a patrician and reinforced by vessels from Gaeta and Amalfi, pillaged the islands of Lampedusa, Ponza and Ischia, Leo II put the coasts of Italy in a state of defence,(30) and the Emperor sent him his cousin Wala to assist him. Charles also entered into negotiations with the patrician George, but the latter concluded a ten years' truce with the enemy. However, the truce was disregarded, and the naval war continued; even the destruction by a tempest of a Saracen fleet of a hundred ships in 813 only checked for a time the razzias of the Spanish Arabs, who continued to pillage Civita Vecchia, Nice, Sardinia, and Corsica, from which they returned with five hundred captives.

In the midst of these wars, however, some diplomatic approaches were attempted. As early as 765 Pippin had sent an embassy to Baghdad. In 768 he received, in Aquitaine, envoys from the Saracens of Spain, who came through Marseilles. In 810 Haroun-al-Raschid despatched an embassy to Charlemagne, and he, in 812, signed a treaty with the Spanish El-Hakem.

These various endeavours, however, led to nothing. And Charlemagne, incapable of resisting the Musulman fleets, was compelled more and more to resign himself to the defensive, parrying with difficulty the blows which he received.

After his death the situation became still worse. It is true that in 828 Bonifacio of Tuscany, with a small fleet, whose function was to protect Corsica and Sardinia, made an attack upon the African coast between Carthage and Utica.(31) We may suppose that he took advantage of the fact that the Musulmans were just then fully occupied in Sicily. But a few years later Italy, to the north of the Byzantine cities, was completely at the mercy of the Musulmans. Brindisi and Tarento were ravaged (838), Bari conquered (840), and the Byzantine and Venetian fleets were defeated. In 841 the Musulmans ravaged Ancona and the Dalmatian coast as far as Cattaro. And Lothair, in 846, made no secret of the fact that he feared the annexation of Italy.(32)

In 846 seventy vessels attacked Ostia and Porto, when the Musulmans advanced, ravaging the country, to the very walls of Rome, profaning the church of San Pietro. The garrison of Gregoriopolis was unable to check them. They were finally repulsed by Guido di Spoleto. Lothair's expedition in the following year did not succeed in recovering Bari.

In 849, at the instigation of the Pope, Amalfi, Gaeta and Naples formed a league against the Saracens, and assembled a fleet at Ostia; the Pope, Leo IV, going thither to bless it.(33) It won a great naval victory over the Saracens. At the same time, the Pope surrounded the Vatican City with a wall, the enclosed area being known as the Civitas Leomina (848-852).(34)

In 852 the Pope settled some Corsican refugees in Porto, which he fortified, but the new town did not prosper. He also created Leopoli, to take the place of Civita Vecchia, now emptied by the terror which the Saracens inspired.(35) At the same time he restored Orta and Ameria in Tuscany, to provide a refuge for the inhabitants at the time of the Musulman raids.(36) But this did not prevent the Musulmans, in 876 and 877, from ravaging the Roman Campagna, and the Pope's appeals to the Emperor of Byzantium were fruitless. The disasters which Byzantium was suffering at this moment in Sicily, where Syracuse succumbed to the enemy (878), doubtless prevented her from intervening, and finally the Pope was compelled to buy off the attacks of the Moors by an annual payment of 25,000 mancusi of silver. Yet so far he had had to deal only with mere bands of pirates whose sole object was pillage. In 883 the Abbey of Monte Cassino was burned and destroyed.(37) In 890 the Abbey of Farfa was besieged; it held out for seven years. Subiaco was destroyed, and the valley of the Anio and Tivoli were pillaged. The Saracens made themselves a stronghold not far from Rome, at Saracinesco, and another in the Sabine hills at Ciciliano. The Roman Campagna became a desert: reducta est terra in solitudinem. Peace was restored only in 916, when John X, the Emperor, the princes of Southern Italy, and the Emperor of Constantinople, who sent some galleys to Naples, forced that city and its neighbours to abandon their alliance with the Saracens, and then, with their assistance, finally defeated the terrible invaders on the Garigliano.

We may therefore say that after the conquest of Spain, and above all of Africa, the Western Mediterranean became a Musulman lake. The Frankish Empire, having no fleet, was powerless. Naples, Gaeta and Amalfi still possessed a fleet. But their commercial interests impelled them to abandon Byzantium, as being too remote, and to enter into relations with the Musulmans.

It was thanks to their defection that the Saracens finally succeeded in taking Sicily. The Byzantine fleet, it is true, was powerful, even more powerful than the fleets of the maritime cities of Italy, thanks to the Greek fire, which made it a terrible instrument of war; but once Sicily was taken it was almost completely cut off from the Occident, where its further appearances were rare and ineffectual. Nevertheless, it enabled the Emperors to safeguard their Empire, which lay mainly on the coast;(38) and it was thanks to the fleet that the Grecian waters retained their freedom, and that Italy finally escaped from the grip of Islam. Thirty years after its conquest by the Musulmans in 840, Bari was retaken by the fleet of the Emperor Basil, which consisted of 400 vessels.(39) This was the essential fact which prevented the Musulmans from obtaining a foothold in Italy, maintained the Byzantine sovereignty there, and assured the safety of Venice.

Again, it was by means of its fleet that Byzantium was able to maintain some sort of supremacy over Naples, Amalfi, and Gaeta, whose policy consisted in siding now with the Emperor, now with the Duke of Benevento, and even at times with the Musulmans, in order to preserve the autonomy which was necessary to their commerce.

The expansion of Islam was thus unable to absorb the whole of the Mediterranean. It encircled the Mediterranean on the East, the South, and the West, but it was unable to obtain a hold upon the North. The ancient Roman Sea had become the frontier between Islam and Christianity. All the old Mediterranean provinces conquered by the Musulmans gravitated henceforth toward Baghdad.(40)

At the same time the Orient was cut off from the Occident. The bond which the Germanic invasion had left intact was severed. Byzantium was henceforth merely the centre of a Greek Empire which could no longer pursue Justinian's policy. It was reduced to defending its last possessions. Its farthest Western outposts were Naples, Venice, Gaeta and Amalfi. The fleet still enabled it to remain in touch with them, and thus prevented the Eastern Mediterranean from becoming a Musulman lake. But the Western Mediterranean was precisely that. Once the great means of communication, it was now an insuperable barrier.

Islam had shattered the Mediterranean unity which the Germanic invasions had left intact.

This was the most essential event of European history which had occurred since the Punic Wars. It was the end of the classic tradition. It was the beginning of the Middle Ages, and it happened at the very moment when Europe was on the way to becoming Byzantinized.


1. I need not speak here of the kingdom of Palmyra, which was destroyed in the 3rd century, and which lay to the north of the Peninsula. VASILIEV, Histoire de L’ Empire byzantin, French translation, vol. I, 1932, p. 265.

2. VASILIEV, op, cit., vol. I, p. 265, citing DUSSAUD, Les Arabes en Syrie avant I'lslam, Paris, 1907.

3. VASILIEV, op.cit., vol. I, p. 274.

4. Ibid., p. 263.

5. VASILIEV, op. cit., vol. I, p. 280.

6. L. HALPHEN, Les Barbares. Des grandes invasions aux conquêtes turques du XIe siècle, Paris, 1926, p. 132: "That the Arabs were victorious was due to the fact that the world which they attacked was ready to fall into ruins."

7. DAWSON, Les Origines de l'Europe, French translation, p. 153, regards religious enthusiasm as the essential cause of the conquests.

8. VASILIEV, op.cit., vol. I, p. 279, citing GOLDZIHER, Vorlesungen iiber den Islam, 1910.

9. Ibid., vol. I, p. 275.

10. For that matter, many were converted to Islam by interest. In Africa, according to Ibn Khaldoun, the Berbers apostatized twelve times in seventy years.

11. In Spain, the 9th century, even the Christians no longer knew Latin, and the texts of the Councils were translated into Arabic.

12. VASILIEV, op. at., vol. I, p. 282.

13. They attacked Constantinople in 668 and 669; in 673 they inaugurated a blockade which lasted nearly five years. HALPHEN, op. at., p. 139.

14. JULIAN, op. cit., p. 318.

15. Ibid., p. 319.

16. Ibid., p. 320. It seems to me that this author has altogether minimized the part played by the Byzantines and has exaggerated the achievement of the Berbers.

17. Ibid., p. 321.

18. Ibid., pp. 322-323.

19. JULIAN, op. cit., p. 323.

20. Ibid., p. 327.

21. LOT, PFISTER and GANSHOF, Histoire du Moycn Age, vol. I, p. 240.

22. HALPHEN, op. cit., pp. 142-143.

23. This battle has not the importance which has been attributed to it. It cannot be compared with the victory over Attila. It marked the end of a raid, but its effect was not really decisive. If Charles had been defeated all that would have happened would have been that the Musulmans would have pillaged the country more extensively.

24. BREYSIG, Jahrbücher des Fränkischen Reiches. Die Zeit Karl Martels, pp. 77-78.

25. BREYSIG, Jharbüchcr da Fränkischcn Reichcs. Die Zcit Karl Martels, p. 84.

26. Ibid., p. 86.

27. H. HAIIN, Jahrbücher dcs Fränkischen Reichs, 741-752, p. 141.

28. Provence was still fated to suffer much devastation. In 799 the Saracens pillaged the coast of Aquitaine, doubtless coming from the Atlantic side, Miracula S. Filibcrti,M.G.H. ss., vol. XV, p. 303. Cf. w.VOCEL, Die Normannen und das Fränkischc Reich, Heidelberg, 1907, p. 51, No. 4. In 768 the Moors were already causing alarm in the neighbourhood of Marseilles, Chronique du pseudo-Frédégaire, Continuatio, M.G.H. ss. RER. MEROV., vol. II, p. 191. In 778 they threatened Italy, JAFFE-WARRENBACH, Rcgcsta, No. 2424. In 793 they attacked Septimania, BOHMER-MUHLBACHER, Rcgesten, p. 138; in 813 Nice and Civita Vecchia, and in 838 Marseilles. In 848 Marseilles was captured. In 857 and 850 Provence was ravaged. In 889 the Arabs established themselves at Sant Tropcz and La Garde Freynct. On the Atlantic coast there were Saracens, who had come from Spain in the 8th century, on the island of Noirmoutier: POUPARDIN, Monuments dc l'hisloire des abbayes de Saint-Philibert, 1905, p. 66.

28a. HARTMANN, op. cit,, vol. III, pp. 170-171.

28b. RICHTER and KOOHL, Annalen des Fränkischen Reichs im Zeitalter der Karolinger, p.132.

28c. KLEINCLAUSZ, Charlemagne, Paris, 1934, pp. 326 et seq.

28d. Ibid., p. 330.

28e. RICHTER and KOHL, op. cit., p. 141.

28f. Annales regni Francorum, a° 799, ed. KURZE, M.G.H. ss. in us. schol., p. 108. 28g. KLEINCLAUSZ, op. cit., p. 332, No. 2.

28h. Annales regni Francorum, ais 806 and 807, ed. KURZE, pp. 122 and 124.

29. JAFFE-WATTENBACH, Regesta, No. 2515; KLEINCLAUSZ, op.cit., p. 331. 30. Ibid., p. 33.

31. HARTMANN, op. cit., vol. III, p. 179, observes that this was the only overseas expedition which the Franks attempted. Cf. RICHTER and KOHL, op. cit., p. 260.

32. M.G.H. CAPIT., vol. II, p. 67. Provence was again pillaged in 849. HARTMANN, op. cit., vol. III, p. 224. And again in 890. M.G.H. CAPIT., vol. II, p. 377.

33. JAFFE-WATTENBACH, Regcsta, p. 330.

34. M.G.H. CAPIT., vol. II, p. 66. In 846 Lothair ordered a subscription throughout the Empire in aid of the erection of this wall.

35. HARTMANN, op. cit., Vol. III, p. 213.

36. JAFFE-WATTENBACH, Regèsta, No. 2959. The Italian coasts were ravaged in 872.

37. GAY, L'ltalie meridionale et l'Empire byzantin, 1904, p. 130.

38. The fleet defended Byzantium not only against the Musulmans, but also against the Franks; in 806 the despatch of a fleet against which Charlemagne was powerless sufficed to persuade him to renounce Venice. At sea, the Franks depended absolutely upon the Italian fleets; in 846 Lothair, having no fleet of his own, requested the Venetians to attack the Saracens of Bene-vento navali expedicione. M.G.H. CAPIT, vol. II, p. 67.

39. SCHAUBE, Handelsgeschichte der Romanischen Volker dcs Mittelmcergebiets, Munich, 1906, p. 26. Louis II’s Italian campaign of 866 to 873 was unsuccessful owing to the disputes which arose between him and the Italians, who at one moment even took him prisoner. HARTMANN, op. cit., vol. III, pp. 265, 288, 296.

40. In speaking of Africa, M. Marcais says: "The bridges are cut between Africa and Christian Europe. She lives with her eyes fixed upon Baghdad or Cairo."