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Home » History » Andalusi Crete (827-961) and the Arab-Byzantine Frontier in the Early Medieval Mediterranean

Andalusi Crete (827-961) and the Arab-Byzantine Frontier in the Early Medieval Mediterranean

The island of Crete is among the oldest centers of civilization in the Mediterranean, located strategically between the Italian Peninsula, the Aegean Sea, Egypt, and the Levant. It also lies on a key sailing route between the eastern and western Mediterranean. Since the decline of Minoan civilization around 1500 B.C., control of the island had shifted between a series of Mycenaean and Hellenistic rulers until it was conquered by the Roman Empire in 69 B.C. Although highly valued for its resources, Roman, and subsequently Byzantine, Crete was gradually neglected and entered a long period of decline, and had been largely overshadowed by Sicily in terms of strategic importance.[1] One of the periods of Crete’s long history that is generally overlooked by historians and researchers is the period of Andalusī Muslim dominance of the island during the ninth and tenth centuries. On the eve of its conquest by Andalusī Muslims in 827, Crete was a minor province of a much-weakened Byzantine Empire characterized by chaos, disorganization, and disunity. The island was not reconquered until 961 by a revitalized, resurgent, and militarily powerful empire. During its 135 year existence as an independent Andalusī emirate, Crete played an important role in the Arab-Byzantine conflict in the ninth and tenth centuries. It was also important in its own right as a regional center of Islamic civilization and naval power.

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The story of Muslim Crete began not in the Eastern Mediterranean, but in the southern portions of the distant Muslim-ruled Iberian Peninsula, known as al-Andalus. In 818 A.D., in the Cordoban suburb of Arrabal del Sur (Ar. al-Rabaḍ), a rebellion broke out against the rule of the Umayyad amīr of al-Andalus, al-Ḥakam I (r.796–822). This uprising was largely instigated by Hispano-Roman Muslim converts, known as muwalladūn, who had allied with Andalusī Mālikī fuqahā’ (jurists), and threatened to engulf the Umayyad realm in civil strife.[1] In response to this rebellion, al-Ḥakam brutally suppressed all opposition, crucifying three hundred jurists from Arrabal del Sur, or al-Rabad, which was destroyed, and exiling twenty thousand of its inhabitants.[2] Half of these exiles, including many artisans, were welcomed by the neighboring Idrīsid dynasty and settled in Fez; indeed, the Andalusian quarter of the city still exists today.[3]

(Fez, old city)

The other ten thousand refugees, including many warriors and jurists, headed for the eastern port city of Alexandria, where they joined an earlier contingent of Andalusīs who had lived in the city since the early 800s.[4] A few years after arriving in Alexandria, the exiles placed themselves under the leadership of fellow Andalusī Abū Ḥafṣ Umar al-Ballūṭī (d. 861), one of the exiled leaders of the Arrabal del Sur uprising, rebelled against the local wālī (governor) and ruled the city for several years.[5] In 825, the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mūn (r. 813-833) sent an army against Alexandria, effectively ending Andalusī control of the city, and forcing Abū Ḥafs and his followers to seek refuge elsewhere.[6]
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The island of Crete was the ideal destination for the exiles, since they had heard about its riches, known of its vital strategic location, and raided it on several occasions.[7] In 824 or 827—the date is uncertain—the Andalusīs landed on the island, overpowered its Byzantine garrison and conquered it with little difficulty, primarily due to the lack of fierce resistance as well as local collaboration. They subsequently established their capital at Chandax/al-Khandaq, modern-day Heraklion (Gr. Ηράκλειο), in the northern part of the island, which looked towards the isles of the Aegean Sea.[8] From their base at Chandax, the Andalusīs raided Asia Minor, the Peloponnese, the Cyclades, and the Aegean Sea, devastating a large number of islands.[9]


Their victory over a Byzantine fleet in 829 allowed them to continue their activities in the Aegean virtually unchecked.[10] Furthermore, the Andalusīs of Crete, taking advantage of the chaotic situation in the Italian Peninsula, established bases at Brundisium and Tarentum, from where they harassed Byzantine shipping in the Adriatic Sea, besieged Ragusa/Dubrovnik, on the Dalmatian coast, in 868 and even sacked Venice in 875.[11] The military and naval defeats inflicted on Byzantine fleets and the threat posed to imperial interests by the Andalusīs led to several serious attempts to dislodge the Muslims from Crete in the ninth and early tenth centuries–most notably in 866, 912 and 949–none of which were successful.[12] By 840, just over a decade after its conquest by the Muslims, Crete was transformed from a relatively backwater province of Byzantium into a major base of naval operations against the Empire. The situation was so dire that around 839 the Byzantine emperor, Theophilos (r. 829-842) was forced to send diplomatic envoys seeking assistance to ‘Abd al-Rahman II (r. 822-852), the Umayyad emir of al-Andalus, and to Louis the Pious (r. 814-840), ruler of the Carolingian empire, to seek aid against the Cretans. Although both embassies led to the establishment of significant diplomatic contacts with these two western kingdoms, they failed to secure the much-needed aid.


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Exacerbating the situation for the Byzantines was the fact that the raids in the Aegean were contemporaneous with the Aghlabid conquest of Sicily, a campaign in which many Andalusīs actively took part.[13] The conquest of Sicily was initiated in 827 by the Ḥanafī jurist Asad ibn al-Furāṭ, who launched an assault on the island with ten thousand Arab cavalrymen and thousands of infantry units on behalf of the Aghlabid amīr Zīyādat Allāh.[14] This meant that Byzantine naval policy became a matter of imperial priority in order to maintain supremacy in the central Mediterranean. In this regard, the conquest of Crete was a major blow to Byzantine naval power and gave the Andalusīs control of the major sailing route from the eastern Mediterranean to the West, not to mention the route between Constantinople and the Mediterranean, and greatly impeded Byzantium’s ability to relieve Sicily, which ultimately fell to the Aghlabids in 902.[15] As subsequent events would demonstrate, however, things were to deteriorate further for the Empire.

The most devastating attack involving the Cretan Muslims was the sack of Thessaloniki in 904 by the Greek renegade and Abbasid admiral Leo of Tripoli.[16] The destruction of the Byzantine Empire’s second largest city and the enslavement of twenty-two thousand Greeks struck a major blow against Byzantium’s power and prestige, and alerted the Empire to the necessity of reconquering Crete from the Muslims.[17] The participation of Leo of Tripoli and another Greek convert to Islam, Damian of Tarsus (d. 924), in the raids against Byzantium within the Aegean further highlights the manner in which various political and military figures exploited the weakness of the Empire during this period in order to wreak havoc and enrich themselves. It is also particularly interesting to note the Christian origins of both Leo and Damian since it underscores the fluidity of the military-political frontier between Byzantium and the Islamic world during this period and the relative ease with which a renegade of humble origins from one side could easily rise to become a major political player on the other.

Despite multiple Byzantine attempts, involving major military and naval campaigns, to conquer Crete it was not until 961 that this was accomplished. It took the command of a Byzantine general (and, subsequently, Emperor) of the the caliber of Nicephorus Phocas, for the island to finally be restored to imperial authority. Nicephorus assaulted Crete with at least 77,000 men, including some of the most elite units in the Byzantine army, which is indicative of the resolve with which this campaign was undertaken.[18] According to both the Arabic chroniclers and Greek sources,  in spring 961, when Chandax finally fell to Nicephorus’ besieging army, the city’s mosques were destroyed or transformed into churches, the Muslim scriptures burnt, two hundred thousand Cretans killed and a similar number enslaved, while those who remained were converted to Christianity.[19] Admittedly, these figures are probably much exaggerated, but they reflect the major destruction which followed the conquest and the vigor with which the Byzantines sought to eradicate the Muslim presence on the island.

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Based on the fact of the raids and attacks of the Cretans it would be easy to reduce the history of Andalusī Crete to a pirate base that plagued the Aegean for nearly 150 years. Indeed, this is precisely how the Byzantine chroniclers and some modern scholars have characterized the emirate. However, unsurprisingly,  the historical reality is much more complex.  Abū Ḥafṣ and his successors, utilizing the title of emirs, were virtually independent rulers, but found it expedient to acknowledge the authority of the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mūn, who was engaged in a war with Byzantium and recognized the strategic value of the island.[23] Abū Ḥafṣ and his descendants (who set up a hereditary dynasty on the island that lasted over 5 or 6 generations) envisioned themselves as local rulers, not too dissimilar from other local dynasties such as the Tulunids or the Aghlabids who ruled and administered different territories on behalf of the Abbasid caliphs whom they nominally acknowledged. The Andalusīs left the local religious infrastructure of Crete intact, allowing the native population to maintain their religion, but implemented Islamic patterns of taxation, urbanization, and administration.[24] Jizya (poll tax) was imposed upon the conquered non-Muslim populations (known as ahl al-dhimma or “protected people”) of Crete and the Aegean islands, and the Cretans secured active support from the Ṭulūnids of Egypt (868–905), demonstrating a certain level of political aptitude.[25] Indeed, the conclusion of pacts and agreements with the local leadership in the Aegean islands signified that the emirs of Crete sought to tax and control, not merely raid, territory. It would therefore be useful to think of the emirate of Crete as operating within a framework that extended beyond simple piracy or brigandage.

The contemporary Arab, Andalusī, and Persian travelers who mention Crete (Iqrītish in Arabic) speak very highly of the island and of the Muslims inhabiting it. Ibn Ḥawqal and al-Istakhri describe the island as an Islamic frontier state engaged in continuous warfare with Byzantium. Al-Istakhri refers to the Muslims of Crete as “the people of ghazw,” while Ibn Ḥawqal explains that Crete was ruled by abnā’ al-mujāhidīn (“the descendants of holy warriors”). The idea of Crete being a major base of operations for Muslim warriors is clarified further by Ibn Ḥawqal who describes the island of Crete as a crucial component of what he terms thughūr al-juzurīyya (“island frontier fortresses”), defensible islands where ghāzī squadrons were based and which held the forces of Byzantium at bay in the Mediterranean, and complementary to the land-based thughūr in Anatolia. The fighting skills of the Andalusīs were described in admirable terms by Ibn al-Abbār, who states that “there was not a single group in any corner of the world against whom these Andalusīs fought that they did not defeat and conquer,” and by Ibn Ḥazm, who glorifies the Andalusī Cretans as “the staunchest and most capable people at vanquishing their enemies.” Moreover, in a letter sent in 961 to the Ikhsīdid Kāfūr (r. 946-968), the Faṭimid imām-caliph al-Mu‘izz li Dīn Allāh (r. 953-975) implied that the Muslims of Crete were mujāhidīn (frontier warriors) and suggested that the Muslim rulers unite in the cause of jihād to relieve the island from the Byzantine onslaught. Such statements reveal that the Andalusīs of Crete were viewed by their contemporaries in the Islamic world (and in later Muslim tradition) as fierce ghāzī warriors fighting from their island frontier fortress at al-Khandaq on the front lines of jihād against the traditional enemies of the Arab Muslims, the Byzantines. Of course, one should be cautious not conflate ideology and representation with historical reality, but at the very least such sources provide some additional insight into the emirate of Crete and its role within the broader context of Byzantine-Arab relations.

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During the period of Andalusī political control, the prosperity of the island itself rose tremendously as a result of the influx of wealth which accompanied the raids of the Cretans. This wealth, in addition to the manpower which it inevitably attracted to the island, allowed the Andalusīs to transform Crete into a formidable ideological and political opponent of Byzantium.[26] The economic vitality and political autonomy of Andalusī Crete is also evident from the fact that the Cretans minted their own coinage, and traded with al-Andalus, Egypt, and the Vikings in such commodities as honey, olive oil, timber, and weaponry.[27] As far as one can tell from the extant sources, life on the island itself was relatively cosmopolitan, with the local population retaining its religion and language, the development of agriculture, trade, increasing urbanization, and multiple social interactions between the Greek Cretans, the Andalusī conquerors, and Arab Muslim settlers.[28] In Crete, as elsewhere along the Arab-Byzantine frontier during the early Middle Ages, commerce and warfare were two sides of the same coin. Indeed, the fruits of piracy–material wealth and captives–were not negligible sources of income for the Andalusi emirate.

The main city built by the Muslims, al-Khandaq, developed into a notable intellectual and cultural center, attracting several scholars from across the Islamic world.[29] According to the fifteenth-century historian al-Ḥimyāri, the “most magnificent Andalusī scholars dwelled in Crete,” an observation also attested by the fact that many of the Andalusīs who conquered Crete were themselves scholars, or fuqahā’ (jurists), who had been exiles from the repressive measures of al-Ḥakam in al-Andalus.[30] Reaffirming this idea that al-Khandaq was a sophisticated and cultured urban centre, the Byzantine Chronicle Theophanes Continuatus describes the lifestyle of the Andalusī elite in Crete, which included living in houses surrounded by gardens full of fruit trees and beautiful fountains, an indication that the Muslim rulers of Crete lived fairly luxuriously.[31] In addition to al-Ḥimyāri, many other Muslim historians, geographers, and chroniclers have emphasized Crete‘s role as a center for culture and scholarship. Yāqūt, a thirteenth-century geographer, for example, described Andalusī Crete as “a large island with many cities where numerous scholars (‘ulamā’) gather,” and Ibn al-Abbār narrates how Crete attracted many scholars, religious people, and lay people from the Islamic world to settle there.[32]

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Another attestation to the close association between Andalusī Crete and Islamic scholarship and culture is the fact that the nisbah al-Iqrītishī was common for several Muslim scholars during the ninth and tenth centuries.[33] Several scholars have also suggested that the sources provide evidence for the existence of other Islamic institutions on the island.[34] Numerous other historians and chroniclers have referred to countless scholars, poets, authors, and jurists, of whose names only a few survive, who came from Crete.[35] Among these individuals was a descendant of Abū Ḥafṣ, the conqueror of Crete, named ‘Umar ibn ‘Isā ibn Muḥammad ibn Abū Ḥafṣ, who compiled a treatise entitled The Interpretation of the Wonders and Miracles of the Qur’an while he was imprisoned in Constantinople following his capture by Byzantine imperial flotillas in the Aegean while on a ghazwa.[36] Other eminent individuals, according to al-Ḥimyāri, included Fatḥ ibn al-‘Ala, the qādī (most senior judicial official and religious judge) of Crete, Isḥāq ibn Sālem, Yaḥya ibn ‘Uthmān, Mūsa ibn ‘Abd al-Mālik, and Muḥammad ibn ‘Umar, who all composed treatises on law, religion, and philosophy.[37] Perhaps the most extraordinary and, in recent years, most discussed scholar who originated in Muslim Crete was Muḥammad ibn ‘Umar, the younger brother of the Mālikī scholar Yaḥya ibn ‘Umar, and a prominent Arab Cretan faqīh, who authored the Kitāb akrīyāt al-sufun, a treatise on Islamic maritime law.[38] This work and its Greek counterpart, the Nomos Rhodion Nautikos, are considered two of the greatest works on ships and shipping from the early Middle Ages.

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Although many of the literary sources, both Greek and Arabic, seek to portray an overly-simplistic picture of a clear-cut conflict between Muslim and Christian in the Mediterranean during the ninth and tenth centuries, it should be remembered that there is ample evidence that, at times, the contact between Islamic and Byzantine civilizations generated relations between Muslims and Christians that extended far beyond the military realm. The case of Crete was no different, with diplomatic and cultural contacts between the Andalusi rulers and Byzantium being an important part of its history. One particularly interesting exchange was that between the emir of Crete and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nicholas Mysticus (d. 925), who sent a cordial letter to former in 913 or 914 in order to encourage him to release the Greek prisoners captured during the attack against Thessaloniki in 904. Among the most interesting portions of the letter is the following, in which Nicholas Mysticus suggests that there was extensive contact and amity between his own predecessor, St. Photios I (d. 891) of Constantinople and the previous emir of Crete:

The Patriarch [St. Photios] knew well that although the barriers of religion stood between us, yet wisdom, kindness, and the other qualities which adorn and dignify human nature, attract the affection of those who love fair things; and therefore, notwithstanding the difference of creeds, he loved your father, who was endowed with those qualities (Nicholas Mysticos, Letters [Washington D.C. 1973], ed. and trans.R.J.H. Jenkins and L.G. Westerink, Letter 2)

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The economic life of Crete improved under the Arabs, and the island went from being a remote, subordinated province of the Byzantine Empire to an autonomous, self-sustaining country with extensive trade, intensive agriculture, and the accumulation of vast wealth as a result of trade, raids, and local enterprise.[39] In their writing, the Arab geographers depict Crete as a country rich with resources, such as gold and timber, and possessing a thriving agricultural economy. In exchange for olive oil from al-Andalus and weaponry from Egypt, Muslim Crete exported timber, wine, cheese, milk, honey, pomegranates, nuts, precious metals, and unique herbs, known as al-Antimūn (Antimonium; used in medicines and dyeing) to the rest of the Islamic world.[40] The Cretans minted their own currency, which not only included copper coins but also silver and gold, demonstrating the wealth of the island under Andalusī rule and its political autonomy from the rest of the Islamic world.[41] Many jurists and scholars immigrated to the island fortresses (al-thughūr al-juzurīyya), of which Crete was an important one, while others were born, grew up, and practiced law there; a source on the life of Muḥammad ibn ‘Umar, for example, states that he had been born in Crete because his father, a contemporary of Abu Ḥafs al-Ballūṭī, had been stationed on the island to participate in frontier warfare.[42] The presence of large numbers of fuqahā’ within the ranks of the Cretan ghāzīs can allow historians to draw parallels between this intellectual-martial trend within Andalusī Crete with the “warrior scholars” of the Arab-Byzantine frontier in Cilicia, Armenia, and Anatolia.[43]

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Whether one views Andalusī Crete as a “pirate base” for Muslim freebooters and adventurers, or as an integral component of the frontier fortresses from which raids were launched against the Byzantine Empire in the Aegean, it is clear that the existence of a powerful, militant entity on Byzantium’s southern maritime frontier posed a major threat to the strategic interests of the Empire. Andalusī Crete also represents the political and social possibilities in a world of tremendous mobility, where a relatively small group of jurists from the fringes of the Islamic world were able to establish a successful and prosperous kingdom for themselves hundreds of miles from their homeland. The events surrounding the establishment, existence and fall of the emirate of Crete should be interpreted within the context of the ninth- and tenth-century frontier warfare that characterized the conflict between Byzantium and Islam during the ninth and tenth centuries. That the fall of Chandax in 961 ushered in a new era of Byzantine imperial confidence and military dominance underscores the importance and relevance of Andalusī Crete within the larger context of the struggle between Byzantium and Islam in the Near East.

[1] Dimitris Tsougarakis, Byzantine Crete: from the Fifth Century to the Venetian Conquest (Athens, 1988), 20–30.

[2] Ibn Idhārī al-Marrakushi, Al-bayān al-Maghreb fī akhbār al-Andalus w-al Maghrib (Beirut,1983), II:75–77; Hitti, History of the Arabs, 513; Imamuddin, “Cordovan Muslim Rule,” 298–299; Ahmad Abbadī and ‘Abdul-Aziz Sālem, Tārīkh al-Bahrīyya al-Islāmīyya fī Ḥawḍ al-Baḥr al-Abyaḍ al-Mutawassit: Al-Bahrīyya al-Islāmīyya fi al-Maghreb wa al-Andalus (Alexandria, 1981), 67–74.

[3] Imamuddin, “Cordovan Muslim Rule,” 299; Xavier de Planhol, L’Islam et La Mer: La Mosquee et le Matelot (Paris, 2000), 64.

[4] Ibn al-Abbār, Kitāb al-Ḥullah al-siyarāʼ (Cairo, 1985), 1/45; Shakib Arslan, Tarīkh ghazawāt al-‘Arab fī Faransa wa-Sūwīsira wa-Iṭālīyā wa-jazā’ir al-Baḥr al-Muṭawassiṭ (Beirut, 1966), 185–187.

[5] Ibn al-Abbār, Kitāb al-Ḥullah, 1/45; Amin Taybi, “Amara ‘Arabīyya Andalusīyya fī Jazīrat Iqrītish,” Majallat al-Mu’arrikh al-Arabī 28 (1986): 47; Ali Fahmy, Muslim Sea-Power in the Eastern Mediterranean (London, 1950), 129–131; Abbady and Salem, Tarīkh al-Baḥrīyya, 75–80.

[6] John Bagnell Bury, History of the Eastern Roman Empire from the Fall of Irene to the Ascension of Basil I (London, 1912), 288; Taybi, “Amara Andalusīyya ‘Arabīyya,” 46; Abbady and Salem, Tarīkh al-Bahrīyya, 80–82.

[7] Bury, Eastern Roman Empire, 288; Fahmy, Muslim Sea-Power, 130; Taybi, “Amara Andalusīyya Arabīyya,” 46; Tsougarakis, Byzantine Crete, 36–37.

[8] Genesios, On the Reigns of the Emperors, trans. Anthony Kaldellis (Canberra, 1998), 39–40. Tsougarakis, Byzantine Crete, 40; Taybi, “Amara Andalusīyya Arabīyya,” 46–48; Alexander Vasiliev, History of the Byzantine Empire (Madison, 1961), 278; Fahmy, Muslim Sea-Power, 132; Kenneth M. Setton, “On the Raids of the Moslems in the Aegean in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries and their Alleged Occupation of Athens,” American Journal of Archaeology 58 (1954), p.311; “Iqrītish,” Encyclopedia of Islam, p.1083..

[9] John Scylitzes, Ioannis Scylitzae Synopsis Historiarum (Berolini, 1973), ed. Hans Thurn, 153; Tsougarakis, Byzantine Crete, 34–35; Warren Treadgold, The Byzantine Revival (Stanford, 1988), 253; Fahmy, Muslim Sea-Power, 136; Eduardo Manzano Moreno, “Byzantium and Al-Andalus in the Ninth Century,” in Leslie Brubaker, ed., Byzantium in the Ninth Century: Dead or Alive? (Ashgate, 1996), 138; Setton, “On the Raids of the Moslems in the Aegean in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries,” pp.312–314. For a discussion of the problematic nature of the sources regarding the chronology of the raids of the Cretans in the Aegean, see E.W. Brooks, “The Arab Occupation of Crete,” English Historical Review 28 (1913): 431–443. For a detailed look at the raids of the Cretans in the Aegean Sea, see Taybi, “Amara Arabīyya Andalusīyya,” 49–50; Vassilios Christides, “The Raids of the Muslims of Crete in the Aegean Sea: Piracy and Conquest,” Byzantion 51 (1981): 76–111; Vassilios Christides, The Conquest of Crete by the Arabs (Athens, 1984), 157–165.

[10] Bury, Eastern Roman Empire, 289; Fahmy, Muslim Sea-Power, 133–134; Abbady and Salem, Tarīkh al-Bahrīyya, 82–85.

[11] Romilly Jenkins, trans., Constantine Porpyrogenitus De Administrando Imperio (Dumbarton Oaks, 1967), 127–129. Archibald Lewis, Naval Power and Trade in the Mediterranean, A.D. 500–1100 (Princeton, 1951), 137–138.

[12] Christos G. Makrypoulias, “Byzantine Expeditions against the Emirate of Crete, 825–949,” in Sixth International Congress of Graeco-Oriental and African Studies (Nicosia, 1996), pp.347–362.

[13] John Scylitzes, Ioannis Scylitzae Synopsis Historiarum, 69; “Iqrītish,” EI, 1083.

[14] Bury, Eastern Roman Empire, 298; Enan, Decisive Moments, 79; Franzius, History of the Byzantine Empire, 163.

[15] Hélène Ahrweiler, Byzance et la mer: La marine de guerre, la politique et les institutions maritmes de Byzance (Paris, 1966), 38–39; Lewis, Naval Power, 132; Richard Unger, The Ship in the Medieval Economy, 600–1600 (London, 1980), 96; Ekkehard Eickhoff, Seekrieg und Seepolitik zwischen Islam und Abendland: Das Mittelmeer unter byzantischer und arabischer Hegemonie (Berlin, 1966), 65–66; John Pryor, Geography, Technology and War: Studies in the Maritime History of the Mediterranean (Cambridge, 1988), 106; John Scylitzes, Ioannis Scylitzae Synopsis Historiarum , 267; Treadgold, Byzantine Revival, 332; Bury, Eastern Roman Empire, 301. For the logistics and financing of the Byzantine army in the Aegean and Ionian seas, and for a discussion of the impact that the Andalusī conquest of Crete had on its military capabilities, see Warren Treadgold, Byzantium and Its Army (Stanford, 1995), 189 and 210..

[16] Muhammad Abdullah Enan, Decisive Moments in the History of Islam (London, 1940), 84–87; Tsougarakis, Byzantine Crete, 50.

[17] A.A. Vasiliev, History of the Byzantine Empire (Madison, 1961), 305; Steven Runciman, Byzantine Civilization (London, 1933), 151; Franzius, History of the Byzantine Empire: Mother of Nations (New York, 1967), 189. For a discussion of the various attempts by the Byzantine Empire to reconquer Crete from the Muslims, see Tsougarakis, Byzantine Crete, 41–58; Christos G. Makrypoulias, “Byzantine Expeditions Against the Emirate of Crete,” Graeco-Arabica 7/8 (2000): 347–362.

[18] Romilly Jenkins, Byzantium: The Imperial Centuries (London, 1966), 271; Taybi, “Amara Andalusīyya ‘Arabīyya,” 50–51; Tsougarakis, Byzantine Crete, 58–74.

[19] Ahmad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahāb al-Nuwairī, Tarīkh al-Maghrib al-Islāmī (Casablanca, 1984), 485–486. Taybi, “Amara Andalusīyya ‘Arabīyya,” 51–52; “Iqrītish,” EI, p.1084. For a detailed discussion of the conquest of Crete by Nicephorus Phocas, see Christides, The Conquest of Crete by the Arabs, 172–191; for a panegyric regarding Nicephorus Phocas, which reveals a great deal of the immense significance of the event to the Byzantines, see Hugo Criscuolo ed. Theodosii Diaconi De Creta Capta (Leipzig, 1979). A rare and interesting perspective concerning the Byzantine conquest of Crete is given in Joshua Holo, “A Genizah Letter from Rhodes Evidently Concerning the Byzantine Reconquest of Crete” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 59 (2000): 1–12.

[20] Tsougarakis, Byzantine Crete, 74; Christides, Conquest of Crete, 183; “Iqrītish,” EI, p.1084.

[21] Nadia Maria El Cheikh, Byzantium Viewed by the Arabs (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2004), 164–168.

[22] Ibn Jubayr, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr: A Medieval Muslim Visits Mecca, Madinah, Egypt, Cities of the Middle East, and Sicily (London: J. Cape, 1952), trans. Ronald Broadhurst, 359; Kathryn A. Miller, Guardians of Islam: Religious Authority and Muslim Communities of Late Medieval Spain (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 45.

[23] Bury, Eastern Roman Empire, 292; Taybi, “Amara Andalusīyya Arabīyya,” 47; Abbady and Salem, Tarīkh al-Bahrīyya, 83; “Iqrītish,” EI, 1083.

[24] Jorge Lirola Delgado, El Poder Nava de A-Andalus en la epoca del Califato Omeya (Granada, 1993), 225; Christides, “The Raids of the Muslims,” 98; Christides, The Conquest of Crete, 104–117; Tsougarakis, Byzantine Crete, 75.

[25] Christides, Conquest of Crete, 109; Christides, “The Raids of the Muslims of Crete,” 98. For more on the religio-political outlook of the Arabs, the treatment of non-Muslims in Islamic society, and the idea of dhimmī, see R. Steven Humphreys, Islamic History: A Framework for Enquiry (Princeton, 1991), 255–283; John Tolan, “Islamic Dominion and the Religious Other,” in Tolan, Saracens, 21–39. This style of governance was based on the traditional Islamic model following the conquest of various regions and on earlier precedents, including the conquests of Egypt and Spain, in which individual (non-Muslim) towns and cities capitulated to Muslim rule, paid a special tax known as jizya, in exchange for being permitted to observe their religious practices and maintain a certain degree of autonomy. This arrangement was known as the dhimma pact.

[26] Jenkins, Byzantium, 144.

[27] Christides, Conquest of Crete, 114; Delgado, El Poder Naval, 227–228. For more on the coinage of Andalusi Crete, see George C. Miles, The Coinage of the Arab Emirs of Crete (New York, 1970).

[28] Christides, Conquest of Crete, 105–107; Jenkins, Byzantium, 144; Tsougarakis, Byzantine Crete, 75.

[29] “Abu Ḥafs ‘Umar al-Ballūṭi,” in The Encyclopaedia of Islam. New Edition. Vol. 1 (Leiden, 1960), 121

[30] Taybi, “Amara ‘Arabīyya Andalusīyya,” 47; Christides, Conquest of Crete, 133.

[31] Christides, Conquest of Crete, 121.

[32] Ibn al-Abbar, Kitāb al-Ḥullah, 1/45; Taybi, “Amara ‘Arabīyya Andalusīyya,” 47; Arslan, Tārīkh Ghazwāt al-‘Arab, 189; Brooks, “The Arab Occupation of Crete,” p.442.

[33]“Iqrītish,” EI, p.1085.

[34] Christides, The Conquest of Crete, 115.

[35] Ibn al-Faradi, Tārīkh al-ʻulamāʼ wa-al-ruwāh lil-ʻilm bi-al-Andalus (Cairo, 1988), 2/123

[36] Taybi, “Amara ‘Arabiyya Andalusiyya,” 48

[37] Ibn al-Faradi, Tārīkh al-ʻulamāʼ, 2/187; Taybi, “Amara ‘Arabīyya Andalusīyya,” 48; Delgado, El Poder Naval, 226–227; Christides, Conquest of Crete, 133–136.

[38] Imamuddin, “Cordovan Muslim Rule,” 308; Christides, The Conquest of Crete, 134. The life of scholars who lived in Crete is also described briefly as “luxurious but difficult‖ in a biographical dictionary from al-Andalus describing the life of one Cretan Andalusi scholar, Marwan ibn ‘Abd al-Mālik ibn al-Fakkhār, who owned a five storey house furnished with twenty slave girls and an entire library of historical and religious works. Marwān ibn ‘Abd al-Mālik was engaged in the writing of the history of Crete and was involved in collecting local material which would have aided him in his task. For an extensive and comprehensive look at the Kitab Akriyat al-Sufun, see Hassan Khalilieh, Admiralty and Maritime Law in the Mediterranean Sea, 800–1050: The Kitab Akriyat al-Sufun vis-a-vis the Nomos Rhodion Nautikos (Brill, 2006); Vasilios Christides, “Raid and Trade in the Eastern Mediterranean: A Treatise by Muḥammad ibn ‘Umar, the Faqīh from Occupied Muslim Crete,” Graeco-Arabica 5 (1993): 61–102.

[39] Ibn Hawqal, Sūrat al-Arḍ,184; Christides, Conquest of Crete, 117.

[40] Al-Ḥimyārī, Kitāb al-Rawḍ al-Mi‘tār fī Khabar al-Aqtār (Beirut, 1975), 51; Taybi, “Amara ‘Arabīyya Andalusīyya,” 46; Christides, Conquest of Crete, 101, 117; “Iqrītish,” EI, 1082.

[41] Christides, Conquest of Crete, 119. Numismatic evidence has shown that the trade networks of the Cretans were highly developed and very extensive, with Cretan Muslim coins being found in Spain, Egypt, Italy, France, Greece, and Scandinavia.

[42] Christides, “Raid and Trade in the Eastern Mediterranean,” 66.

[43] For more on the concept of “warrior-scholars” in early Islam, see Bonner, Jihad in Islamic History, 97–117.

Further Reading

Abbadi, Ahmad and Abdul-Aziz Salem, Tārīkh al-bahrīyya al-islāmīyya fī ḥawḍ al-Baḥr al-Abyaḍ al-Mutawassit: Al-bahrīyya al-islāmīyya fi al-Maghreb wa al-Andalus. Alexandria, 1981.

Arslan, Shakib. Tarīkh ghazawāt al-‘Arab fī Faransa wa-Sūwīsira wa-Iṭālīyā wa-jazā’ir al-Baḥr al-Muṭawassiṭ. Beirut: Dār Maktabat al-Ḥayāh 1966.

Bonner, Michael. Aristocratic Violence and Holy War: Studies in the Jihad and the Arab-Byzantine Frontier. New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1996.

______. “Some Observations concerning the Early Development of Jihad on the Arab-Byzantine Frontier,” Studia Islamica 75 (1992): 5–31.

Brooks, E.W. “The Arab Occupation of Crete,” English Historical Review 28 (1913): 431–443.

Christides, Vassilios. “The Raids of the Muslims of Crete in the Aegean Sea: Piracy and Conquest,” Byzantion 51 (1981): 76–111.

______. “Raid and Trade in the Eastern Mediterranean: A Treatise by Muhammad ibn Umar, the Faqih from Occupied Muslim Crete, and the Rhodian Sea Law, Two Parallel Texts.” Graeco-Arabica 5 (1993): 61–102.

______. The Conquest of Crete by the Arabs: A Turning Point in the Struggle between Byzantium and Islam. Athens: Akademia Athenwn, 1985.

______. “The Names ΑΡΑΒEΣ, ΣΑΡΑΚΗΝΟΙ etc. and Their False Byzantine Etymologies.” Byzantinische Zeitschrift 65 (1972): 329–333.

Delgado, Jorge Lirola. El poder naval de Al-Andalus en la época del Califato Omeya. Granada: Servicio de Publicaciones de la Universidad de Granada, 1993.

Enan, Muhammad Abdullah. Decisive Moments in the History of Islam. London, Goodword Books, 1940.

Fahmy, Ali. Muslim Sea-Power in the Eastern Mediterranean.London: Tip. Don Bosco, 1950.

Haldon, John and Hugh Kennedy, “The Arab-Byzantine Frontier in the Eighth and Ninth Centuries: Military Organization and Society in the Borderlands,” in The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East, pp. 79–116, ed. Hugh Kennedy. Burlington: Ashgate, 2006.

Holo, Joshua. “A Genizah Letter from Rhodes Evidently Concerning the Byzantine Reconquest of Crete” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 59 (2000): 1–12.

Imamuddin, S.M. “Cordovan Muslim Rule in Iqrītish (Crete),” Journal of the Pakistan Historical Association 8 (1960): 297–312.

Khalilieh, Hassan S. Admiralty and Maritime Laws in the Mediterranean Sea (ca. 800–1050): The Kitab Akriyat al-Sufun vis-à-vis the Nomos Rhodion Nautikos. Leiden: Brill, 2006.

Lewis, Archibald. Naval Power and Trade in the Mediterranean, A.D. 500–1100. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951.

Manzano Moreno, Eduardo. “Byzantium and Al-Andalus in the Ninth Century,” in Byzantium in the Ninth Century: Dead or Alive? Ed. Leslie Brubaker. Ashgate: Variorum, 1996.

Makrypoulias, Christos G. “Byzantine Expeditions Against the Emirate of Crete,” Graeco-Arabica 7/8 (2000): 347–362.

Miles, George C. “Byzantium and the Arabs: Relations in Crete and the Aegean Area.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 18 (1964): 1–32.

______. The Coinage of the Arab Amirs of Crete. New York: The American Numismatic Society, 1972.

Nikolia, D. “Islamic Influences in the Iconoclastic Churches of Naxos,” Graeco-Arabica 7/8 (2000): 433–438.

Ostrogorsky, George. History of the Byzantine State. Trans. Joan Hussey. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1957.

Picard, Christophe and Antoine Borrut, “Rabata, Ribat, Rabita: une institution a reconsiderer,” in Chretiens et musulmans en Mediterranee medievale: Echanges et contacts, eds. Nicolas Prouteau and Philippe Senac. Poitiers, 2003.

Pryor, John H. Geography, Technology, and War: Studies in the Maritime History of the Mediterranean. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Taybi, Amin “Amara ‘Arabīyya Andalusīyya fī Jazīrat Iqrītish,” Majallat al-Mu’arrikh al-Arabī 28 (1986): 45–55.

Tsougarakis, Dimitris. Byzantine Crete: from the Fifth Century to the Venetian Conquest. Athens: Historical Publications St. D. Basilopoulos, 1988.


1 Comment

  1. Pharid Moulaei says:

    Enjoyable article, thank you.

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