Alternate History

Arab-Byzantine Wars (Saracen Jihad)

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Arab-Byzantine Wars
Saracen Jihad
Date 629 -
Location Levant, Syria, Egypt, North Africa, Anatolia, Crete, Sicily, Southern Italy
Result Overall Muslim Arab gains
Simple Labarum2 Eastern Roman Empire

Armenian principalities
Bulgarian Empire
Kingdom of Italy
Italian city-states

Black flag Rashidun Caliphate

Umayyad Flag Umayyad Caliphate

The Arab–Byzantine Wars refers to a series of wars between the mostly Arab Muslims and the Byzantine Empire, beginning in the seventh century AD. Conflict between the Muslims of Arabia and the Byzantines first arose after the initial Muslim conquests under the expansionist Rashidun and Umayyad caliphs, which led to much of the Middle East and North Africa being conquered by the Caliphate.

Rapid Arab expansion resulted in the loss of several of the Byzantine Empire's southern provinces, including Syria and Egypt, to the Muslims, and over the next fifty years the aggressive Umayyad caliphs several devastating raids would be launched into Byzantine Asia Minor, twice threatening or even laying siege to the capital of Constantinople. It was not until the second failed Arab siege of Constantinople in 718 that it became clear to the Arabs that the Byzantines would not be so easily conquered, and a border begin to form in Asia Minor, finally running along the Taurus Mountains on the eastern rim of the region. The border provinces of the Byzantine Empire along the border became heavily fortified and sparsely populated, as frequent raids reeked havoc on the few inhabitants that the Arab armies met.


Omayyad Period

In 718 the Arabs were forced to withdraw from the city of Constantinople after an unsuccessful siege, ending prospects of conquering the Byzantine Empire. The border between the Byzantines and the Arabs was established along the mountains of eastern Anatolia, bringing about a period lacking any major military campaigns from either side. Periodic raids and counter attacks were still common, but the inability for either to successfully subjugate the other allowed for formal diplomatic relations to begin in which each side formally recognized the legitimacy of the other. The largest raids during this period occurred in 720/721. With the Umayyads distracted in distant reaches of their empire the Byzantines had attempted to reconquer several cities in Armenia, and the Umayyads responded by launching a large offensive, with the aim of heavily raiding, pillaging, and plundering the Byzantine countryside, seldom attacking major forts or settlements.

Continuing attacks against the Byzantines was viewed as a tradition and a part of the continuing jihad. Annual expeditions against the Caliphate's "traditional enemy" quickly became organized, composed of one to two summer expeditions (pl. ṣawā'if, sing. ṣā'ifa) and sometimes by a naval attack and/or followed by winter expeditions (shawātī). Summer attacks were usually broken down into two separate expeditions, with the "expedition of the left" (al-ṣā'ifa al-yusrā/al-ṣughrā) being launched from the Cilician thughur and consisting mostly of Syrian troops. The "expedition of the right" (al-ṣā'ifa al-yumnā/al-kubrā), usually the larger of the two, was launched from Malatya and composed of Mesopotamian troops. Raids were largely concentrated on the borderlands and of the central Anatolian plateau, with Arab troops occasionally reaching the Byzantine coastline, which was subsequently heavily fortified to protect important settlements.

Expeditions intensified under the rule of the more aggressive Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik, with some of the Caliphate's most capable generals, including princes of the Umayyad dynasty like Maslama ibn Abd al-Malik and al-Abbas ibn al-Walid or Hisham's own sons Mu'awiyah, Maslama and Sulayman, leading attacks against the Byzantines. Many of the frontier provinces of the Byzantine Empire became heavily devastated by war, with ruined cities and deserted villages becoming characteristic of life in the reaches of the empire. What little population remained scattered among the border relied on the mountains and natural barriers to protect them, where the armies of the empire could not.

With Arab invasions being renewed, parried with a series of natural disasters, such as the eruptions of the volcanic island of Thera, the Byzantine Emperor Leo III the Isaurian interpreted recent events as the Empire losting divine favor. Already in 722 he had tried to force the conversion of the Empire's Jews, but soon he began to turn his attention to the veneration of icons, which some bishops had come to regard as idolatrous. In 726, Leo had published an edict condemning their use and had become increasingly critical of the iconophiles personally. In 730 he formally banned depictions of religious figures in a court council. The decision to do so angered many, and the emperor was met with opposition from both the church and the people, including the Bishop of Rome.

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