Byzantine Navy - Operational History - Byzantine Reconquest: The Era of The Macedonian Dynasty - Arab Raids During The Reign of Leo VI

Arab Raids During The Reign of Leo VI

Despite the successes under Basil, during the reign of his successor Leo VI the Wise (886–912), the Empire again faced serious threats. In the north, a war broke out against the Bulgarian Tsar Simeon, and a part of the Imperial Fleet was used in 895 to ferry an army of Magyars across the Danube to raid Bulgaria. The Bulgarian war produced several costly defeats, while at the same time the Arab naval threat reached new heights, with successive raids devastating the shores of Byzantium's naval heartland, the Aegean Sea. In 891 or 893, the Arab fleet sacked the island of Samos and took its stratēgos prisoner, and in 898, the eunuch admiral Raghib carried off 3,000 Byzantine sailors of the Kibyrrhaiotai as prisoners. These losses denuded Byzantine defenses, opening the Aegean up to raids by the Syrian fleets. The first heavy blow came in 901, when the renegade Damian of Tarsus plundered Demetrias, while in the next year, Taormina, the Empire's last outpost in Sicily, fell to the Muslims. The greatest disaster, however, came in 904, when another renegade, Leo of Tripoli, raided the Aegean. His fleet penetrated even into the Dardanelles, before proceeding to sack the Empire's second city, Thessalonica, all while the Empire's fleet remained passive in the face of the Arabs' superior numbers. Furthermore, he Cretan corsairs' raids reached such intensity, that by the end of Leo's reign, most of the southern Aegean islands were either abandoned or forced to accept Muslim control and pay tribute to the pirates. It is no surprise that a defensive and cautious mindset is prevalent in the Leo's contemporary instructions on naval warfare (Naumachica).

The most distinguished Byzantine admiral of the period was Himerios, the logothetēs tou dromou. Appointed admiral in 904, he was unable to prevent the sack of Thessalonica, but he scored a first victory in 905 or 906, and in 910, he led a successful attack on Laodicea in Syria. The city was sacked and its hinterland plundered and ravaged without the loss of any ships. A year later, however, a huge expedition of 112 dromons and 75 pamphyloi with 43,000 men, that had sailed under Himerios against the Emirate of Crete, not only failed to recover the island, but on its return voyage, it was ambushed and comprehensively defeated by Leo of Tripoli off Chios (October 912).

The tide began to turn again after 920. Coincidentally, the same year witnessed the ascension of an admiral, Romanos Lekapenos (920–944), to the imperial throne, for the second (after Tiberios Apsimaros) and last time in the Empire's history. Finally, in 923, the decisive defeat of Leo of Tripoli off Lemnos, coupled with the death of Damian during a siege of a Byzantine fortress in the next year, marked the beginning of the Byzantine resurgence.

Read more about this topic:  Byzantine Navy, Operational History, Byzantine Reconquest: The Era of The Macedonian Dynasty

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