|674-678||Siege of Constantinople (1st)||★ ★ ★ ★ ★|
|Outcome:||The first unsuccessful siege of the capital by the Arabs||674-678|
|War & Enemy:||
Early Byzantine-Muslim Wars
|The Battlefield|| Location:
| Modern Country:
|The Byzantines(emperor: Constantine IV)||The Enemies|
|Commander:||Emperor Constantine IV||Abdul-Rahman ibn Abu Bak, Yazid (son of Caliph Muawiyah I)|
|Forces:||possibly around 40,000||unknown but outnumbering Byzantines|
|Background story:||As early as 668 the Caliph Muawiyah I, after receiving an invitation from Saborios, the commander of the troops in Armenia to help him overthrow the emperor at Constantinople, sent an army under his son Yazid against Byzantium. Yazid reached as far as Chalcedon and took the important Byzantine center Amorion. That city was quickly recovered, but in 670 the Arabs captured Cyzicus and set up a base for launching attacks into the heart of the Empire. Their fleet captured Smyrna and other coastal cities in 672. Finally, in 672, the Arabs sent a large fleet to attack Constantinople by sea.
As Gibbon put it: "46 years after the flight of Mahomet from Mecca, his disciples appeared in arms under the walls of Constantinople. They were animated by a genuine or fictitious saying of the prophet, that, to the first army which besieged the city of the Caesars, their sins were forgiven: the long series of Roman triumphs would be meritoriously transferred to the conquerors of New Rome; and the wealth of nations was deposited in this well-chosen seat of royalty and commerce."
Just prior to the siege, a Greek refugee from Syria named Kallinikos (Callinicus) of Heliopolis had invented for the Byzantine Empire a devastating new weapon that came to be known as the "Greek fire".
The great fleet that had been assembled set sail under the command of Abd ar-Rahman before the end of the year; and during the winter months some of the ships anchored at Smyrna, the rest off the coast of Cilicia. Additional squadrons reinforced the forces of Abd ar-Rahman before moving on. The naval forces of the Umayyads passed through the unguarded channel of the Hellespont about April 674 under the command of Abdul-Rahman ibn Abu Bakr.
Apparently, the Arabs were not very well prepared for this operation. The fairly lightly armed Arab army and fleet would have shown up with no idea on how to break into this fortress defended by a system of massive walls and the sea.
The Arabian fleet cast anchor, and the troops were disembarked near the palace of Hebdomon, seven miles from the city. From the first light of dawn till the evening over a period of many days the Arab infantry attacked the city's land walls from the Golden Gate going far to the east. The walls of the city were defended by numbers and discipline: the spirit of the Romans was rekindled by the last danger to their religion and empire. The fugitives from the conquered provinces more successfully defended the city than they had at the sieges of Damascus and Alexandria.
This firm and effectual resistance by the Romans discouraged the Arab forces that were used to quick victories with fast moving cavalry tactics. Arab soldiers came looking for fast loot and slaves. Their leadership needed to keep the troops happy and diverted their arms to the more easy attempt of plundering the European and Asiatic coasts of the Propontis.
After controlling the sea from the month of April to that of September, on the approach of winter they retreated eighty miles from Constantinople, to Cyzicus, in which they had established their magazine of spoil and provisions. This withdrawal gave the Byzantines the precious opportunity to replenish their supplies and repair the city walls that had been partly damaged by the enemy.
For the six following summers the Arabs repeated this same pattern of attack and then retreat for the winter months.
Then in 677 after three years of siege, the Byzantine navy utilized Greek Fire to decisively defeat the Umayyad navy in the Sea of Marmara. The naval victory that the Byzantines won ensured that the city could be re-supplied by sea. Meanwhile, the Arab forces were beset with starvation in winter.
Each year had seen a gradual abatement of Arab hope and vigor. Finally after years of naval defeats and a fruitless siege the Arab forces broke camp in 678 and returned home.
|Noteworthy:||This is the first known use of Greek fire in combat|
|Aftermath:||It was the first of several times that the walls of Constantinople saved Byzantium and the western world from invading Muslims. For the Muslims, it was their first serious failure after many years of conquests.|