The Arab Muslims conquered vast swaths of territory during the middle of the seventh century and well into the early eighth century. As early 638 AD, they wrested large parts of Palestine, Syria (Shams), and Mesopotamia from Byzantine and Persian hands. Egypt, North Africa, and Hispania soon followed with the first two provinces taken from the Byzantines and the last from the Visigoths. One jewel that remained out of the Arab Muslims’ reach, however, was the prosperous yet sometimes chaotic capital of the Byzantines: Constantinople. The Arab’s many attacks occured around 668 AD according to the Bible Timeline with World History.
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The Muslims’ first attempt to conquer the great city in 674 AD and the series of naval attacks lasted until 678 AD. The hard task of keeping the city safe from any attempts to breach it fell on Constantine IV, the son of the unpopular Constans II, who came to the throne in 668 AD. The man on the other side was the Umayyad caliph Mu’awiya who started his reign in 661 AD and assembled a navy to counter the Byzantines. He led the Muslim navy in expeditions to Cyprus, Rhodes, Kos, as well the coastal town of Kyzikos by the Sea of Marmara and established a base there as early as 670 AD. It was too close for comfort for the Byzantines, and when he saw that an attack was on the horizon, Constantine prepared the Byzantine navy to defend the city.
Constantine’s preparation proved to be a wise move as the Arab fleet led by Mu’awiyah sailed for Constantinople four years later. The Arab navy first attacked in spring of 674 but the Byzantines proved to be successful in their defense of Constantinople, and the Arab navy was forced to return to Kyzikos to spend winter there. They made another attempt in spring of the following year but were repelled by the Byzantine’s use of the ancient flamethrower they called the “Greek fire” which burned Arab ships and drowned their sailors.
The cycle of attack and retreat carried on for four years until Mu’awiya agreed to a peace treaty with Constantine IV. The Umayyad caliph was forced to pay a hefty annual tribute to the Byzantines, as well as agreed to leave the naval bases they constructed on the Byzantine islands earlier. The temporary peace allowed Constantine IV to focus on the neighboring Slavs and the Bulgars.
Picture By Unknown – Codex Skylitzes Matritensis, Bibliteca Nacional de Madrid, Vitr. 26-2, Bild-Nr. 77, f 34 v. b. (taken from Pászthory, p. 31), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=302463
Shepard, Jonathan, ed. The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Theophanes, and Harry Turtledove. The Chronicle of Theophanes: An English Translation of Anni Mundi 6095-6305 (A.D. 602-813). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.
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