Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-65dc7cd545-jbgjn Total loading time: 0.895 Render date: 2021-07-24T04:33:37.776Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

Arab Attacks on Rhodes in the Pre-Ottoman Period

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2009


The period of Mu'āwiya b. Sufyān, as governor over Syria and al-Jazīra under the caliph 'Uthmān from at least 25–6/646–7, and then as Umayyad caliph in Damascus 41–60/661–80, was crucial for the first impetus of Arab expansion in the eastern Mediterranean. Egypt had been conquered by 'Amr b. al-'Āṣ during 'Umar's caliphate, and the great port of Alexandria passed definitively into Arab hands by 21/642. Alexandria possessed famed dockyards, and had a Greco-Egyptian population which the Arabs were able to press into service for manning their warships operating out of the Egyptian ports and out of the harbours along the Syrian coast, such as Jaffa, Acre, Beirut and Tripoli.

Research Article
Copyright © The Royal Asiatic Society 1996

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below.



This article is based on the Claude Cahen Memorial Lecture delivered to the Society on 11 May 1995. An earlier, shorter version of it was read at a conference organised by the Rhodian Historical Society in November 1993 at Rhodes to commemorate the 2400th anniversary of the foundation of the city. For the present final version, which includes an apparatus criticus, the author has benefited much from the advice of Dr Alexis Savvides of the Centre for Byzantine Research, Hellenic National Foundation, Athens, and from the critical comments of Dr Lawrence I. Conrad of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, London.


1 See on him Encycl. of Islam, new edn, art. s.v. (H. Lammens), and art. “Sulaym” (M. Lecker); Idem., The Banū Sulaym. A Contribution to the Study of Early Islam (Jerusalem, 1989), index s.v., esp. pp. 76–7Google Scholar, 138–42; Conrad, L. I., “The conquest of Arwād. A source-critical study in the historiography of the early medieval Near East”, in The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East. I. Problems in the Literary Source Material, Papers of the First Workshop on Late Antiquity and Early Islam, ed. Cameron, Averil and Conrad, Lawrence I. (Princeton, 1992), pp. 361–2Google Scholar.

2 Dr Conrad has drawn my attention to an Umayyad period ḥadīth, traced back to the Prophet, which states that no army of 12,000 men will be defeated by reason of inadequate numbers; see his “The conquest of Arwad”, pp. 355–8 and n. 101.

3 See Encl. of Islam, new edn., art. “Kubrus” (A. H. de Groot).

4 See, amongst a considerable literature on the battle, Canard, M., “Les expeditions des Arabes contre Constantinople dans l'histoire et dans la légende”, Jnl. Asiatique, CCVIII (1926), pp. 63–6Google Scholar, repr. in Idem., Byzance el les Musulmans du Proche Orient, Variorum Reprints (London, 1973), no. 1Google Scholar; Eickhoff, E., Seekrieg und Seepolitik zwischen Islam und Abendland. Das Mittelmeer unter byzantinischer und arabischer Hegemone (650–1040) (Berlin, 1966), pp. 1821CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Christides, V., “The naval engagement of Dhāt aṣ-Ṣawārī A.H. 34/A.D. 655/656, a classical example of naval warfare incompetence”, Byzantina, XIII (Athens, 1985), pp. 1331–45Google Scholar; Encycl. of Islam, new edn., Suppl., art. s.v. (C. E. Bosworth).

5 Cf. al-Balādhurī, , Futūḥ al-buldān, ed. de Goeje, M. J. (Leiden, 1866), p. 235Google Scholar: that the Arab raids on Sicily began with that of Mu'āwiya b. Ḥudayj al-Kindī and continued until the Aghlabid conquest of the whole island in the third/ninth century.

6 Dr Conrad promises a special monograph on Ibn A'tham, to be published in 1996.

7 Kitāb al-Futūḥ, ed. Abd al-Mu'īd Khān, Muḥammad (Hyderabad, 1388–95/1968–75), ii, pp. 145–6Google Scholar.

8 Ibn A'tham, ii, pp. 127–8; al-Balādhurī, pp. 235–6; al-Ṭabarī, , Ta'rikh al-Rusul wa 't-mulūk, ed. de Goeje, et al. ii (Leiden, 1879–1901), ii, p. 158Google Scholar; al-Athīr, Ibn, al-Kāmil fi 'l-ta'rikh (Beirut, 1385–7/1965–7), iii, p. 493Google Scholar; Eutychius, , Alexandria, Patriarch of, Annales, ed. Cheikho, L., in Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, L?LI = Scriptores arabici, VI?VII (repr. Louvain, 1960–2), ii, p. 38Google Scholar; cf. Caetani, L., Chronographia islamica (Rome, 1912), ii, p. 577Google Scholar.

9 al-Balādhurī, p. 236; al-Ṭabari, ii, p. 163; Ibn al-Athīr, iii, p. 497; cf. Caetani, loc. cit.

10 Conrad, “The conquest of Arwād”, pp. 317–401. Conrad regards the beliefs of such scholars as Brooks, Wellhausen and Caetani that Arwād, off the Syrian coast, could be regarded as “near Constantinople” as fantasy, see op. cit., pp. 380–1.

11 al-Ya'qūbī, , Ta'rikh, ed. Houtsma, M. T. (Leiden, 1883), ii, p. 285Google Scholar; al-Ṭabarī, ii, pp. 173, 181, 188.

12 Conrad, op. cit., pp. 376–8.

13 Ibid., pp. 378–9.

14 al-Ṭabarī, ii, p. 196; Ibn al-Athīr, iv, p. 5; cf. Caetani, op. cit., ii, p. 654.

15 Conrad, op. cit., pp. 375–6, who deals here, inter alia, with the “Ruin of Rhodes” theme of the Arabic sources.

16 E.g. in A. S. Atiya's Encycl. of Islam, first edn., art. “Rhodes” and, most recently, Kaegi, Walter E.'s Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests (Cambridge, 1992), p. 248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

17 See Conrad's “The Arabs and the Colossus”, in this Journal, below p. 172.

18 Ed.Bury, J. B. (London, 1901), v, pp. 443–4Google Scholar; Eickhoff, Seekrieg und Seepolitik zwischen Islam und Abendland, pp. 22, 31.

19 E.g. Vasiliev, A. A., History of the Byzantine Empire (Madison, 1952), i, p. 212Google Scholar (who asserts that the Arabs actually destroyed the Colossus); Ostrogorsky, G., History of the Byzantine State, 2nd edn. (Oxford, 1968), p. 116Google Scholar; Jenkins, Romilly, Byzantium, the Imperial Centuries A.D. 610–1071 (London, 1966), p. 38Google Scholar.

20 “The conquest of Arwād”, pp. 399–400 and “The Arabs and the Colossus”, below, p. 174.

21 Zachariadou, Elizabeth A., Trade and Crusade. Venetian Crete and the Emirates of Menteshe and Aydin, 1300–1415 (Venice, 1983), pp. 912Google Scholar; Savvides, Alexis G. C., “Rhodes from the end of the Gabalas rule to the conquest of the Hospitallers, A.D. c. 1250–1309”, in Byzantinotourkika meletēmata. Anatypōse arthrōn 1981–1990 (Athens, 1991), no. XII, pp. [211]–[213].Google Scholar

22 Ibid., pp. [215]–[221].

23 See, in general on Rhodes in this period, Luttrell, Anthony T., “The Hospitallers at Rhodes, 1306–1421”, in A History of the Crusades. III. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, ed. Hazard, H. W. (Madison, 1975), pp. 282ffGoogle Scholar., and Savvides, op. cit.

24 Mentioned amongst slaves passing through the Rhodes markets are “Tatars”, “Turks”, “Abkhases” and Christians from “Romania”; see Zachariadou, op. cit., pp. 160–3, and Luttrell, , “Slavery at Rhodes 1306–1440”, Bull, de I'Institut Beige de Rome, XLVI-XLVII (1976–7), pp. 81100.Google Scholar

25 Inalcik, Halil, “The rise of the Turcoman maritime principalities in Anatolia, Byzantium and Crusades”, Byzantinische Forschungen, IX (1985), p. 186.Google Scholar

26 Ibid., pp. 197–9; Zachariadou, op. cit., pp. 53–4.

27 Inalcik, op. cit., p. 197.

28 Ibid.op. cit., p. 201.

29 Hill, George, A History of Cyprus (Cambridge, 1940–8), ii, pp. 329–35Google Scholar; Luttrell, “The Hospitallers at Rhodes, pp. 294ff.

30 Hill, op. cit., ii, pp. 467–93.

31 On this type of large man-of-war, especially frequently mentioned in the Mediterranean context (and whose name may stem, in the surmise of K. Vollers, from Spanish caraba < Latin carabus < Greek karabos or karabion), see Kindermann, H., “Schiff” im Arabischen. Untersuchung über Vorkommen und Bedeutung da Termini, University of Bonn diss. (Zwickau i. Sa., 1934), pp. 6871Google Scholar. In archaic Anglo-Indian usage, it yielded the term grab, frequent in an Indian Ocean context; see Yule, H. and Burnell, A. C., Hobson-Jobson. A Glossary of Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, 2nd edn. (London, 1903), pp. 391–2.Google Scholar

32 Exactly who this ruler was is unclear. In the 1430s and early 1440s, the local begs Sawchi b. Shems al-Dīn Meḥmed and, at times, Maḥmūd Beg Qaramān-oghlu, seem to have controlled Alanya, but, on the evidence of coins, seem to have acknowledged the Mamlūk sultan as suzerain; and in 848/1444, Luṭfi Beg b. Sawchi was ruling there. See Lloyd, Seton and Rice, D. Storm, Alanya ('Ald'iyya), Occasional Publications of the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara, 4 (London, 1958)Google Scholar; Uzunçarşh, I. H., Anadolu beylikleri ve Akkoytmlu, Karakoyunlu devletleri, 3rd ed. (Ankara, 1984), pp. 92–3Google Scholar; Bosworth, C. E., The New Islamic Dynasties. A Chronological and Genealogical Manual (Edinburgh, 1996), no. 119Google Scholar. Alanya was clearly in a vassal relationship to the Mamlūks at this time.

33 'l-Maḥāsin, Abu Taghrībirdī, Ibn, al-Nujūm al-zāhiraji akhbār Miṣr wa 'I-Qāhira, ed. Popper, W., University of California Publications in Semitic Philology (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1909–29), vii/4, pp. 112, 114Google Scholar, Eng. tr. Idem. History of Egypt 1382–1469 A.D., University of California Publications in Semitic Philology (Berkeley andLos Angeles, 1957–60Google Scholar), xix, Part V, 1438–1453 A.D., pp. 81, 82; al-Maqrīzī, , Kitāb al-Sulūk li-ma'rifat duwal al-mulūk, ed. Abd al-Fattāḥ, Sa'id 'Ashūr, iv/3 (Cairo, 1973), pp. 1205–6, 1209–10Google Scholar.

34 In the early Islamic Mesopotamian milieu, the zawraq is a skiff or light river boat, but those used in the Mediterranean were obviously larger, sea-going craft used for transporting men and cargo; see Kindermann, op. cit., pp. 37–8.

35 This would seem to be the general meaning of these two terms in Arabic historical texts of the eighth-ninth/fourteenth-fifteenth centuries, although the precise differentiation between a mukḥula and a madfa' is, as Ayalon, D. has noted, unclear (Encycl. of Islam, new edn., art. “Bārūd. iii. The Mamlūks”, and Gunpowder and Firearms in the Mamluk Kingdom. A Challenge to a Mediterranean Society (London, 1956), pp. 2630)Google Scholar. Only the discovery of manuscripts describing and illustrating Mamluk military technology (such as the manuscript of Marḍī/Murḍā b. 'Alī al-Ṭarsūsī's work used to illuminate Ayyūbid weaponry and machinery of war by Cahen, Cl in his “Un traité d'armurerié compose pour Saladin”, Bull. d'Etudes Orientates, XII (1947–8), pp. 102–63Google Scholar) could solve the problem.

This campaign of Chaqmaq's in 848/1444 is an instance of the Mamlūks' use of the new invention of cannon and of the older, catapult-type siege engines side-by-side; according to Ayalon again, Gunpowder and Firearms, p. 29, the use of such devices as ballistas and mangonels was going out by the mid-ninth/fifteenth century.

36 Ibn Taghrībirdī, vii/4, pp. 131–6, tr. pp. 92–5. Cf. on the Mamlūk attempts on Rhodes, and on Chaqmaq's external relations in general, Holt, P. M., The Age of the Crusades. The Near East from the Eleventh Century to 1517, London and New York 1986, pp. 189–90Google Scholar.

37 See Atiya, art. at.

Cited by

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Arab Attacks on Rhodes in the Pre-Ottoman Period
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Arab Attacks on Rhodes in the Pre-Ottoman Period
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Arab Attacks on Rhodes in the Pre-Ottoman Period
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *