Baldwin, M. W. (ed.) / The first hundred years
II: Conflict in the Mediterranean Before the First Crusade, pp. - PDF (19.6 MB)
44 A HISTORY OF THE CRUSADES That all-important city the Arabs besieged by land and sea for over a year; not until famine and pestilence had decimated some of their forces, and a Byzantine-Venetian fleet threatened the rest, did they raise the siege. They burned their own ships and fled into the interior; driven from Mineo and Enna and abandoning Agrigento, they returned to Mazara, their starting point two years before. Spanish Arabs, who unexpectedly appeared for purposes of plunder, supported the retreating Aghlabids, renewed the attack, and plundered as far as Mineo, but then retreated to Mazara, whence they sailed to Spain. At the same time, in 828, a Frankish fleet under count Boniface of Tuscany cleared the waters around Corsica and Sardinia and successfully plundered the African coast between Utica and Carthage. Byzantine land and sea forces, aided by the Venetians, had frustrated for the moment the Arab conquest of the island. The second effort at conquest, however, succeeded and eventually led to the occupation of the entire island. In 830 an African fleet of three hundred ships and some Spanish squadrons attacked and besieged Palermo, the second city on the island. After a year the strategic port fell to the besiegers, for whom it became the base of operations against the rest of the island and, more significantly, against the mainland. In spite of active Byzantine resistance and occasional successes the Arabs consolidated and increased their holdings. They took a decade to drive out stubborn garrisons and to capture strongholds; by 840 they controlled western Sicily and could turn to other parts of the island. In 843 they captured Messina after a long siege and a surprise land attack; with its capture they controlled the Strait of Messina and so could prevent the entrance of Byzantine naval forces jnto western waters. Actually, they were assisted by the Neapolitans, on whose behalf they had intervened against duke Sikard of Benevento, when the latter had laid siege to their city in 837. Not only political, but economic considerations, too, prompted the Christians of Naples to aid the enemy, for only in friendly alliance with the Arabs were they able to carry on their commerce since the eastern Mediterranean was already closed to them, by other Arabs and by the Venetians.2 With Palermo and Messina in hand, the Arabs turned to the southeastern part of the island, especially toward Syracuse. They 2 Both Pirenne and Gay emphasize the commercial reasons for these alliances with the Arabs. Henri Pirenne, Mohammed and Charlemagne (New York, 1939), pp. i8zf. Pirenne quotes J. Gay, L'Italie méridionale et l'empire byzantin (Paris, 1904), p. 529. A very recent and concise review of Moslem trade has been made by Robert S. Lopez in Cambridge Economic History, II (Cambridge, 5952), z8 5—289.
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