The former Roman provinces of the Levant, Egypt, North Africa, and Hispania quickly fell to the Arabs during the middle of the seventh century. The Byzantines proved to be more resilient and clever in their defense of their capital during the Umayyad invasion. Their use of the “Greek fire” destroyed the majority of the Umayyad navy and the Muslim warriors, led by Caliph Mu’awiyah, retreated after he was forced to sign a peace treaty with the Byzantines. The annual tribute the Byzantines required from the Arabs in exchange for peace discouraged them from attempts for reconquests for many years. It took another 39 years after the First Siege of Constantinople (674-678 AD) before the Arabs made another attempt to conquer the city. The repulse of the Arabs is recorded on the Biblical Timeline with World History at 717 AD.
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Two men were at the forefront of the fight for Constantinople: Emperor Leo III and the new Umayyad caliph Suleiman. Emperor Leo anticipated the arrival of the Arabs early in his reign and ordered for the preparation of Constantinople’s defenses months before the first Muslims ships sailed through the Dardanelles. The new Arab navy was under the command of caliph Suleiman who supplemented his sailors with as much as eighty thousand land troops who marched through Asia Minor from the Middle East to help him conquer Constantinople.
Emperor Leo took a cue from Constantine IV who fought the same enemy years before and used the “Greek fire” against the Arab navy; once again, the ancient flamethrower set many of their ships on fire and drowned many of their sailors. The weather also helped the Byzantines when the wind fanned the flames of the “Greek fire” and a harsh winter descended on the Sea of Marmara. Suleiman, unused to the bitter cold, died when winter set in and he was replaced by his cousin, Umar II, who then sent a new admiral from Egypt to continue the attacks.
Men from both sides died during the siege of Constantinople, but the Arabs suffered more casualties which compelled caliph Umar to stop and recall his men. All hostilities officially ended on August 15, 718. The Arab navy, as well as the overland troops, limped back home. Constantinople would remain unconquered for another nine hundred years until the rise of the Ottomans.
Picgture By Original: Constantine Manasses – Scanned from book “Miniatures from the Manasses Chronicle”, Ivan Duichev, “Bulgarski hudojnik” Publishing house, Sofia, 1962, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3511648
Bauer, Susan Wise. The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010.
“History-Of-Islam-Volume-1to6.” History-Of-Islam-Volume-1to6. Accessed August 02, 2016. https://archive.org/stream/TheNewCambridgeHistoryOfIslamVolume1/The_New_Cambridge_History_of_Islam_Volume_1#page/n571/mode/1up.
“Siege of Constantinople (717-718).” Siege of Constantinople (717-718). Accessed July 13, 2016. http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/imperialism/notes/constantinoplesiege.html.
Treadgold, Warren T. Byzantium and Its Army, 284-1081. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995.
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