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Baldwin, M. W. (ed.) / Volume I: The first hundred years

II: Conflict in the Mediterranean before the First Crusade,   pp. [30]-[79] PDF (10.8 MB)

Page 41

over the western Mediterranean passed from the Arabs to the Italian cities.
 The first period in the Italo-Arab relations ran from 652 to 827. During
these years the Arabs attacked and plundered the south Italian cities and
especially the nearby islands almost at will, because the Byzantines and
Italians were unable to maintain garrisons everywhere. The attackers shifted
their raids in accordance with the Italian defense and preparedness. But
they remained mere pirates, since their mainland and maritime forces were
occupied elsewhere. The Arabs, by force and diplomacy, had to subdue the
Berbers of North Africa; temporarily united with them, the Arabs reached
Gibraltar and easily crossed into Spain and advanced to the Pyrenees. Not
until the Arabs were stopped in 732 and driven from Gaul in 769, that is,
not until they had been stopped in western Europe, did they direct their
main attacks upon mid-Europe, upon Italy and its neighboring islands. 
 The earliest recorded Arab raid upon Sicily took place in 652. A general
of Mu~awiyah, cAbd~Allãh ibn-Qais, directed it, very likely from Syria,
seemingly as part of a determined campaign against Byzantine sea power. Syracuse
felt the impact most and lost much of its wealth and treasures and many of
its citizens to the plunderers. In 669 an Alexandrian fleet of two hundred
ships pillaged Sicily again. These two expeditions, originating in the eastern
Mediterranean, were possible because the Arabs had shattered Byzantine eastern
naval power in a series of battles between 649 and ~ Western Byzantine naval
strength suffered a disastrous defeat in 698, when the Arab land and sea
forces of Uassan ibn-an-Nu~mãn captured Carthage. With jts capture
the Arabs acquired another maritime base of operations and began their control
over the western Mediterranean. Both were of ominous significance for Italy
and the Italian cities. 
 Müs~ ibn-Nu~air, who became governor of North Africa shortly after
the capture of Carthage, recognized the possibilities and need of maritime
power. At Tunis he ordered the construction of harbor facilities and shipyards,
and eventually of a fleet of one hundred ships. Nearby Italy soon felt the
results of his activities. In 700 the Arabs took over Pantelleria, in 704
they successfully plundered western Sicily, and ~n 705 they attacked Syracuse,
but lost ships and men in a storm. Elsewhere, the first Arab raid upon Sardinia
took place in 711 and upon Corsica in 713, and both islands were soon controlled
by Arab forces. Again in 720 Arab raiders touched upon Sicily and in almost
every year between 727 and 734; ne 

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