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7-08-2015, 21:13

The era of ‘abd al-malik: muslim consolidation and renewed offensive

The failure of the siege of 674–8 marked the high point inMu’awiya’s efforts to seize Constantinople and for some Muslims this episode became the stuff of legend.49 There followed the secondMuslim fitna, which provided a welcome breathing space for the Byzantines. The years 678–9 marked a turning-point in the earliest Muslim–Byzantine encounters. The failure of the blockade of Constantinople, followed by the civil war, caused Caliph Mu‘awiya to purchase a suspension of hostilities from Constantine IV (668–85) in 680: he had to offer an annual payment of 3,000 gold pieces, together with fifty slaves and the same number of horses. The Byzantine empire observed these terms throughout the caliphate of Yazid I (680–3), and early in 685 Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik requested renewal of the truce for several reasons. These included the ongoing fitna, the Khazars’ pressure on Armenia and Constantine IV’s offensive which regainedMopsuestia for the Byzantines.50 The cost of a truce was now huge, amounting to 365,000 gold pieces, 365 slaves and an equal number of horses. Constantine did not seize the opportunity to push deeper into Muslim Syria, or even to try and win it back, at this very vulnerable moment for ‘Abd al-Malik.Maybe Constantine himself was in poor health or the plague raging inMuslim territories at the time could have acted as a disincentive. A second truce on similar terms was negotiated at the end of 689 or at the beginning of 690 (see above, p. 235). Another instrument of Byzantine diplomacy took the form of the unruly bands of Mardaites that Constantine IV unleashed to raid along the north Syrian coast and to infest its hills. The hardyMardaites were few in number, and proved disproportionately successful in disrupting Muslim control over northern Syria. A troublesome and temporary Byzantine tool of the late 680s and early 690s, they were probably of Armenian origin. Their operations on behalf of the Byzantines were all the more effective thanks to the protracted second fitna, which lasted from 683 until 692: the Muslim authorities found it difficult to check the Mardaite raids while they were seriously distracted by their own internal strife. Justinian II (685–95, 705– 11) withdrew theMardaites from the mountainous regions around Antioch and the north Syrian coast sometime around 687, shortly before sending Leontius to Armenia in command of a strong expeditionary force; in 690 Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik restored Antioch to Muslim rule. The city may have slipped out of Muslim hands because of the Mardaite raiding and the distractions of the fitna. Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik achieved many of his objectives against Byzantium, although he did not radically shift the borders; these remained roughly where they had been at the beginning of the 640s, following the line of the Taurus and Anti-Taurus mountain ranges. Although the end of the second fitna was a significant turning-point, it would not be until Caliph ‘Umar II’s reign (717–20) that another major effort was launched against central Byzantine lands, reaching as far as the capital itself and making use of both naval and land forces. ‘Abd al-Malik’s armies were unable to accomplish the sort of deep penetration of Byzantine Anatolia that Mu‘awiya had achieved. His military actions were fairly effective but limited in scope; they concentrated on the border areas, in contrast to the sweeping Muslim gains made in the western Mediterranean region in this era. ‘Abd al-Malik’s Byzantine strategy fits well with his domestic policies. These included the Arabising of both his bureaucracy and the coinage, while the coin reforms involved the polemical rejection of the types of coin struck by his adversary, Justinian II. The monumental construction of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (see fig. 26) reinforced Umayyad assertions of their right to control the holy places and to the heritage of Abraham. But ‘Abd al-Malik and his armies and subjects also benefited from the internal tensions and strife of the reign of Justinian II. The kaleidoscopic changes of emperors in the two decades or so following Justinian’s initial overthrow provided ample opportunities for bolder Muslim initiatives (see above, p. 236). Arab–Byzantine warfare intensified. By 691/2 the truce had been broken and Justinian II suffered a sharp defeat at theMuslims’ hands at Sebastopolis, north-west of Sebasteia, after his Slavic recruits defected to theMuslims en masse.51 Serious Arab invasions of Byzantine Anatolia followed in 695 and 696, reaching as far as Mopsuestia and Melitene. By 695 the Muslims were raiding the region of Fourth Armenia, and by 697 they were marauding elsewhere in Anatolia and taking large numbers of prisoners. Exploiting the instability of the Byzantine throne after the overthrow of Justinian II, Muslim expeditions reached Theodosioupolis in 700, Samosata by 701 and the fortress of Taranda in 702. They succeeded in gaining control of the region of Fourth Armenia, but raiders in Cilicia met with defeat in 704 (see also above, p. 346). From 705 onwards Maslama began to lead expeditions into Anatolia in person. The early eighth century saw an intensification of Arab offensives while the Byzantines were distracted by internal upheavals.52 Under Caliph al- Walid I (705–15), Maslama captured Tyana in 707/08; in 713 Antioch-onthe- Maeander in Pisidia fell; and in 714Maslama managed to reachGalatia, bringing back many captives. Maslama’s brother, the caliph Suleiman, put him in command of the great expedition to capture Constantinople in 716– 18. This unwieldy force allegedly numbered more than 100,000 warriors and it is said to have had a supply train of some 12,000 men, 6,000 camel and a similar number of donkeys. The venture turned out to be a costly and embarrassing fiasco for the Arabs and a morale-booster for the Byzantines. Serious logistical challenges faced the attackers while Leo III’s shrewd bargaining skills and talent for deception contributed to the Byzantines’ repulse of this assault on their capital. Immediately thereafter, the Kharijite rebellion in Iraq distracted the attention of Maslama and the caliphal government. Later Umayyad raiders mostly sought to obtain booty, rather than attempting to acquire territory for good.

 

 

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