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Battle of Sartene (Yarmuk)

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Battle of Sartene
Location Off the coast of the town of Sartene, Corsica.
Date 813AD
Attacking Army Byzantine Empire (Admiral Theodotus) with 45 vessels and 3000 men
Defending Army Septimania (Admirals Frankos and Lapitan) with 70 vessels and 5000 men.
Result Major victory for the Byzantine Empire
Casualties Byzantines 10 ships and 750 men, Septimanians 60 ships and 3000 men.

The Battle of Sartene was the crushing victory necessary for the Byzantines to instill their suzerainty over all of Italy. Their comprehensive victory over the Septimanian Grand Company showed that Byzantine military technology far exceeded the capacity of even the most powerful of the Western maritime nations - and succeeded in bringing Corsica under Byzantine control. The Lombards, the cause of the dispute, soon found that their alliance with the Byzantines had only replaced one oppressor with another, more powerful overlord.

Background

The Principality of Septimania was something of a political anomaly. Founded out of the ruins of a war between two incompetents, the Visigoths and the Franks, it had, in 2 centuries, created an empire of great military and economic strength. In the year 800, it started out on building a fleet.

The next target for the Septimanians was the weakened Lombards, whose territories bordered those of Septimania and whose misfortuned had already been exploited by the Byzantine Emperors some years back. Accordingly, the Septimanian Grand Company - responsible for the control of the fleet - decided to take Corsica, a rich and bountiful island controlled by a local Lombard lord. In the year 812, the Grand Company descended on the coasts of Corsica with the Septimanian army in tow. The Corsican Lombards were hopelessly inept and - after a series of easy skirmishes, the Septimanians gained complete control of the island.

The Byzantines intervene

Understandably, the Lombards were not too happy about this and began to amass their armies with the intention of taking Corsica back. However, a Septimanian fleet under the command of Admiral Frankos showed them that it was not possible to slip across the Gulf of Genoa without a fleet of their own. Envoys were sent to Naples and Ravenna, the seats of local Byzantine power - and accordingly a commission was dispatched to Constantinople. The Emperor graciously agreed for a declaration of war against Septimania and accordingly sent out two fleets. The smaller under Admiral Theodotus was to engage the Septimanians and hold them at bay, whilst the larger, under Admiral Pharnaces, was designed to carry soldiers and provisions for the invasion and annexation of any land necessary. Both fleets set out from Constantinople in the closing months of 812, but the faster, Admiral Theodotus' squadron, was the first to reach the Bay of Naples. From there, it was sent out towards Corsica, with the aim of destroying any enemies in its path.

The Battle

News of the Byzantine approach had already reached the ears of the Septimanians, who accordingly sent their squadron under Admiral Frankos to accompany Admiral Lapitan, who commanded the squadron in harbour at Sartene. Frankos beat the Byzantines by a day - and so it was his plan to come at them from two sides: his squadron would attack first from their point of anchorage to the East, whilst Lapitan's squadron set out from port and hit the Byzantines in the rear.

The plan was genius; when the Byzantines arrived, Frankos attacked them in the side with his squadron of 30 ships. The Byzantines floundered a little, losing a few ships to the initial impact, but their counter attack was swift and deadly. The use of Greek Fire was a principle source of Byzantine success, but the main reason for their victory on this occasion was the failure of the squadron under Admiral Lapitan to materialise. By the time it had, several hours too late, Frankos had been compelled to withdraw his remaining vessels due the superiority of Byzantine numbers and fire power.

Theodotus had wised up to the Septimanian game by now, and decided to lay a trap for Lapitan's relief force. By spreading Greek Fire in a rim around the area where the Septimanian ships were likely to sail, the Byzantine galleys lured them in in a horseshoe formation. When the oil was lit, there was chaos. Lapitan's force was cut off to the man and completely destroyed; either engulfed in fire, or pummeled by Byzantine artillery. Such was the terror of this unknown weapon that Lapitan, unlike the rational Frankos, was paralysed by terror and was unable to act.

Aftermath

Frankos' return in port at Toulon was received as intended. The Septimanian Grand Company were not the group of panicked incompetents one would expect them to be in such circumstances. Rational negotiation was opened with Byzantine envoys and the Peace of Toulon was agreed. Trade restrictions were imposed on the Septimanian Grand Company (although the Byzantines later lifted them in light of commercial interests) and Septimanian warships were restricted to defensive operations by Byzantium. The Lombards, who had been taken for a fool; they were only paid minimal compensation by Septimania and Admiral Pharnaces squadron, which was originally required for the discomfiture of the Septimanians, was used to annex Corsica. Byzantium had successfully achieved their goal; domination of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

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