Maat - To know the history to create the future





From Yarmuk to Poitiers


The Mediterranean sea was called by the Romans "Mare nostrum." A multiethnic and multireligious Empire found its own unity in the Roman culture of the right and the law, in the respect of the traditions of every people, in the ideal of civil and political virtue of the citizen. All the inhabitants of the Empire were in fact Roman citizens with equal rights and duties since emperor Caracalla's times (212 edict A.D.). The Roman emperors were men of noble or dark origins coming from every country: Syria, Spain, Illyria, Thrace, Italy, etc.

Beginning from the V century the immigratory waves of the Germanic people turned into invasions. The Western Roman Empire was fragmented in a series of Roman-barbaric states.

Beginning from the VI century the Slavics immigrated in the Balkan peninsula and they also transformed themselves in invaders, coming to threaten even Greece. The Eastern Roman Empire had to undertake a difficulty work of defense.

With the arrival of the Sassanid dynasty the Persian Empire had taken again the politics of hostility toward the Roman Empire. At the end of the VI century a long war began. Up to 630 the two Empires kept on fighting harshly among them.

In 632 the Arabic people, gathered by Mohammed in a very cohesive government and religious organization, was ready to go out of the Arabic peninsula to attack the remains of the two Empires.

The Arabs will be stopped at Constantinople, in 678 and in 717, and at Poitiers, in 732.

After one century of war the Mediterranean Sea won't be anymore a point of meeting of people but a border among two cultures in struggle: the culture of the West, prevailing in Europe and the culture of the Islam, prevailing in the Middle East and in North Africa.

Place: Mediterranean Sea

Epoch: from 632 to 732 A.D.

The political situation in the VII century

Following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, beginning from the V century they were formed some states defined Roman-barbaric, first nucleus of the future European state-nations.

In Gaul and in Central Europe the Franks, in Spain the Visigoths, in Italy the Lombards, in Britain the Angles and the Saxons proceeded in the process of fusion with the Roman or Romanized local populations. But above all the process of acculturation that would have brought to the recognition of a new common identity, the West, progressed.

Analogous process began among the Slavs of the south that established themselves in the Illyria and in the rest of the Balkan peninsula; and among the Slavs of the north that occupied the actual Poland, Slovakia and Czech republic.

The Roman Empire, called also Byzantine from the ancient name of the capital Byzantium (from the IV century Constantinople, and from the XV century Istanbul), maintained the control on coastal zones of Italy (including Sicily and the other islands), on the whole coastal strip of North Africa (actual Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt), on the so-called Fertile Crescent (actual Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and part of Iraq), on Smaller Asia and neighboring zones (actual Turkey and Armenia), on Greece and on part of the Balkan peninsula.

The other great power of the time was the Persian Empire, eternal rival of the Roman Empire. The two Empires clashed for centuries in the area of Syria and Iraq with alternate results. In 630 the emperor Heraclius defeated the Persian Khosrow II.

The Arabic peninsula was not traditionally involved in the international political stories. An attempt of conquest of the actual Yemen, at the time of emperor August, was resolved with the withdrawal, for the adverse meteorological conditions, of the victorious Roman army, conducted by the prefect of Egypt Aelius Gallus. Since then no Roman had more attacked the Arabic peninsula. Many Arabs had been included in the Empire as citizens and as allied. In the III century Phillip the Arab, belonging to a noble family of the Traconitides, became Roman Emperor.

The Arabic unity

Mohammed had unified militarily and religiously the whole Arabic peninsula. At his death, June 8 th 632, various tribes tried to detach themselves from the union taking back their own independence. The caliph Abu Bakr succeeded in recomposing the unity, in few months, submitting the command of the army to a capable general: Halid ibn al-Walid, who had been the winner of the Muslims in the second battle between Mecca and Medina. The caliph Omar, successor of Abu Bakr, arranged an accurate ethnic-religious cleaning eliminating from Arabia Christians and Hebrews.

The Arabs conquer Syria and Palestine (633-640)

In the autumn of 633 three armies attakhed Syria and Palestine.

On February 4 th 634 the general Sergius was defeated at Gaza. Subsequently the general Theodorus, brother of the emperor Heraclius, was defeated at Rabbath Moab.

On July 30 th 634 the local forces of the Byzantine Empire were defeated in the battle of Agnadain by the general Halid ibn al-Walid.

Bosra, capital of the Ghassanidis, was conquered by the Arabs. On January 23 rd 635 it was the time of Pella (Fihl) near the Jordan. Damascus withstood six months. Then Homs, Hamath and other cities surrendered.

The emperor Heraclius sent reinforcements. The Arabs withdrew abandoning Damascus. But on August 30 th 636 the general Theodore, attacked during a storm of sand, was defeated near the river Yarmuk, tributary of the Jordan. Theodorus died in battle.

In December of 636 the Arabs reentered in Damascus. Syria was lost.

Two cities withstood still for a long time: Aelia Capitolina (Jerusalem), that fell in 638, and Caesarea, capital of Palestine, that surrendered in 640. Palestine was lost.

The Arabs conquer Egypt and Libya (639-652)

In 639 the general Amr ibn al-As, from his base of Palestine, attacked Egypt. Pelusium surrendered after one month of siege. Amr arrived without obstacles up to Heliopolis.

In June 640 he besieged the fortress of Babylon. Reinforcements left from Alexandria that however were defeated. Babylon fell on April 6 th 641.

Amr set the siege to Alexandria, defended by the fleet and by a strong garrison. Unfortunately Heraclius was dead and the new Emperor Constant II was barely twelve years. The Patriarch Cyrus, sent bythe young emperor to govern Egypt, rather than to defend the land of the Pharaohs, surrendered on November 8 th 641. In 642 the Arabic troops entered Alexandria. Egypt was lost.

The advance continued toward Tripoli that fell on November 18 th 643. Libya was lost.

In 645 Constant II sent a fleet, commanded by the admiral Manuel, that succeeded in freeing Alexandria. The general Amr intervened, defeated the Byzantines at Nikiu and in 646 retook Alexandria.

In 652 the Byzantines tried again to free Egypt, but they were rejected.

Always in 652 the Arabs arrived in Nubia. Afterwards the Christian kingdoms of Dongola and Axum will stop the Arabic advance toward south.

The Arabs conquer the Byzantine Mesopotamia and Armenia (639-640)

In 639-640 the Arabs occupied the Byzantine Mesopotamia and in October 640 they took the most important Armenian fortitude: Dvin.

The Arabs in Asia Minor (647)

In 647 Mu'awiya burst in Cappadocia, occupied Caesarea and arrived in Phrygia. Then he withdrew with a rich booty.

The Arabs attack Carthage (647)

In 647 the Arabs attacked the Exarchate of Carthage, they took a great booty and they returned in Egypt.

The Arabs to Cyprus, Crete, Rhodes, Cos and in Sicily (649-655)

In 649 the Arabs attacked and conquered Cyprus.

In 652 the coasts of Sicily were ransacked and in 654 those of Rhodes. It followed the conquest of Cos and the pillage of Crete.

In 655 the Arabs defeated the Byzantine fleet, commanded by the emperor Constant II, to Fenike of Lycia.

The Arabs conquer the Persian Empire (634-651)

Persia was attached in 634. In 637 the Mesopotamia fell and the Arabs reached Ctesiphon. In 641 the Arabs won a battle at Nehawend in Media. Then they advanced in the Elam and in 644 they attacked Fars. In 650, after a hard resistance, the persianis yielded and the Arabs arrived up to Afghanistan and to Pakistan. The last shah of Persia, Yezdegherd III was murdered at Merv in 651. The Persian Empire stopped existing.

First peace treaty (659)

In 659 the Arabs, engaged in a civil war for the story of the fourth caliph Alì ibn Abi Talib, cousin and son-in-law of Mohammed to have married his daughter Fatima, concluded an peace treaty with the emperor Constant II.

The Arabs besiege Constantinople, but they are defeated by Constantine IV (678)

In 663 the Arabs took back the attacks against Byzantium. They made raids in Asia Minor. In 670 the Arabs took the peninsula of Cyzicus in the immediate proximities of Constantinople. In 672 Smyrna fell and the coastal zones of Cilicia were taken.

In 674 it began the attack to Constantinople. But the Byzantines succeeded to reject the assault and in 678 Constantine IV defeated the Arabs. This victory has to be considered similar to that of Leo II the Isauricus in 717 and to that that Charles Martel will get at Poitiers in 732. They were these three victories that saved Europe and its culture.

Second peace treaty (685)

In 685 a peace treaty was concluded between the emperor Justinian II and the caliph 'Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan.

In 691 the war resumed. The Byzantines were defeated at Sebastopol (today's Sulu-saray) in Armenia.

The Arabs conquer Africa up to Ceuta (697-711)

In 697 the Arabs poured into Latin Africa. They occupied Carthage (698). The emperor Leontius sent a fleet. But it was defeated. The Arabs reached the Atlantic ocean overwhelming the resistances of the Berbers. The Byzantines tried to defend Septem Fratres (today's Ceuta) that fell in 711. Africa (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco) was lost.

The Arabs attack Asia Minor (709-711)

In 709 the Arabs besieged Tiana, a fortress in Cappadocia. The Byzantines were defeated and Tiana fell in Arabic hands.

In 710 and 711 the Arabs made some raids in Cilicia and an Arabic division reached Crysopolis in front of Constantinople.

The Berbers conquer Spain (709-712)

In 709 Musa ibn Nuayr sent in the Iberian peninsula, then dominated by the Visigoths, 500 Berbers under the command of Tarif. Tarif disembarked near the future Tarifa and arrived up to Algesiras.

Verified the scarce ability of resistance of the Visigoths, Musa organized an army with 7000 Berbers and set it to the orders of Tariq ibn Ziyad. Tariq disembarked near the future Gibraltar that is "Mountain of Tariq".

Some assert that the fleet was furnished by the count Olian, desirous of revenge towards king Roderic who had seduced his daughter.

In July 711 Roderic was defeated at the mouth of the river Salado, near Cadiz, also for the betrayal of some of his adversaries, headed by the bishop Oppas, brother of the dead king Witiza. In fact in 709 Roderic had dethroned the legitimate heir Achila.

Tariq conquered Malaga and Cordoba. Then he took Toledo, the Visigothic capital.

The Arabs conquer Spain (712-713)

In June 712 Musa arrived in Spain with an army constituted by 10000 Arabs. He conquered Medina Sidonia, Carmona, Merida and Seville. He finally reached Toledo.

The emirate of Andalusia (711-756)

The reunited armies of Musa and Tariq conquered Augusta Caesarea (Saragossa) and almost all the rest of the Iberian peninsula. Spain was lost.

The emirate of Andalusia was constituted with capital Cordoba. The first emir was 'Abd al-Aziz, son of Musa. He made the error to marry Egilona, the widow of Roderic, and was sentenced to death in 716, being suspected to have become Christian.

The Berbers' revolt (740-742)

In 740 the Berbers rebelled themselves and defeated the Arabic troops in the plain of Tangier.

Near the river Masfa, in 742, the Berbers still had the best on a second army sent by the Arabs.

Then also the Berbers that had conquered Andalusia rose up.

The Arabs were forced to send a third army that defeated the Berbers and succeeded in taking back the control of Africa and Andalusia.

The Arabs besiege Constantinople (716-717), but they are defeated by Leon II

The caliph Sulayman gave to his brother Maslama the task to conquer Constantinople. The siege lasted since August 716 to September 717. The emperor Leon II the Isauricus withstood. The Arabs had to retire themselves. This victory showed decisive to stop the advance of the Arabs toward Europe from east.

The Arabs are defeated at Poitiers by Charles Martel (732)

In 718 the Arabs occupied the Septimania, the southern part of the Gaul, and in 720 they conquered Narbona. Autun was ransacked in 725. Then they tried to reach Toulouse, but they were stopped by the duke Eudes on the Garonne. Then they directed toward Burdigala (Bordeaux) and they set the siege to Tours.

Charles Martel intervened and, together with the duke Eudes, attacked the Arabs at Cenon near Poitiers. On October 17 th 732 the Frank infantry and the Aquitainian cavalry defeated the Arabs, who had to retire. This victory proved decisive to stop the advance of the Arabs toward Europe from west.

One century of wars (632-732)

The victories of Constantinople (717) and of Poitiers (732) allowed Europe to survive, even if sad events still waited a lot of zones of the South Europe (Arab conquest of Sicily, assaults to the coasts of Provence, of Liguria, of Sardinia, of Corsica, etc.).

After one century of war, practically nonstop, the West had succeeded not to be crushed by the Arabic armies. European culture was safe. But its center of gravity was moved toward north.

Unfortunately the unity of the Mediterranean Sea was shattered. By now part of the European coastal strip, the whole African and great part of the Asian one was in the hands of the Arabs.

Of all the lost territories (today's Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Turkey) only Spain would have been freed after a long and hard struggle. It will be necessary in fact to wait for January 2 nd 1492 to see the definitive defeat of the Arabic kingdom of Granada.

In the XIV century the Turks will take back the assault against Europe invading the Balkan peninsula (see Bosnia before the Turks and Bosnia dominated by the Turks). Constantinople will fall in 1452 and will have the new name of Istanbul.

In 1683 Austrians and Polish will save Europe defeating the Turks who had set the siege to Vienna. Beginning from the end of 1600 the Europeans will begin the liberation of the Balkans.


Bibliographical references:

Arborio Mella F. A.

Gli arabi e l'Islam


Hourani A.

Storia dei popoli arabi


Maier F. G.

L'Impero Bizantino


Noja S.

Storia dei popoli dell'Islam - L'Islam dell'espansione (632-1258)


Ostrogorsky G.

Storia dell'Impero Bizantino


Pirenne H.

Maometto e Carlomagno