jihad against rome

Many of us would be startled if we are told that in the 9th century, an Arab fleet based in Sicily sailed up the Tiber and occupied and sacked Rome and the Vatican for days together till they were defeated and expelled by the papal militia along with the armies of the Holy Roman empire and Frankish contingents. This attack was brief, mercifully very brief, but the Arabs could reach Rome – a feat that even Hannibal could not achieve! To be precise the Arab attack took place on August 28, in the year 846 CE when the Arabs arrived at the mouth of the river Tiber and sailed into Rome.

The Arabs did not succeed in entering the fortified inner city of Rome that was defended by the Romans, but the churches of St. Peter and St. Paul, in today’s Vatican that lay outside the fortified boundaries of Rome, were violated by the Arabs. The Pope Leo IV had to briefly flee Rome and appeal for help from the neighboring kingdoms.

In response to the Papal plea for help, an army started the descent by land from Civitavecchia in direction of Rome. Another army began the march from Portus and Ostia.

The valiant attempts of the Saxons, Longobards, Frisians and Franks to defend St. Peter up to the last man proved to be in vain. The Arabs murdered all the defenders and plundered all the treasures of St. Peter. They tore the silver leaves of the doors, the gold foils of the floor of the confession, devastated the bronzy crypt of the apostle, took the gold cross that stood on the grave of Peter. They laid waste all the churches of the district Suburb.

The marquis Guy of Spoleto, arrived to help Rome, and with small band of bravehearts succeeded in defeating the Arabs who withdrew partly towards Civitavecchia and partly towards Fondi, following the Appian Way.

During their retreat, the Arabs’ in flight, inflicted ruin and devastation in all the Roman countryside. At Gaeta, the Longobard army clashed again with the Arabs. Guy of Spoleto found himself in serious difficulties, but the Byzantine troops of Cesarius, son of Sergius, magister militum in Naples, arrived in time. But in November of 846 a storm provoked numerous damages to the ships of the Arabs, some of which were shipwrecked on the coast.

Taking advantage of this Arab retreat, the Pope Leo IV, in consequence of the attack against St. Peter, in 848 undertook the construction of the Civitas Leonina to protect the Vatican hill. The enclosing walls were completed in June 27 in the year 852 CE.

The Arabs to the assault of the coasts and the Italian islands (813)

The Arab attack on Italy began in 813 when they attacked and occupied Centumcellae (Civitavecchia) by surprise. Ischia and Lampedusa were also devastated and occupied. The Arabs also attacked Sardinia and Corsica in the same year.

The Arabs at Centumcellae (829)

In 829 the Arabs destroyed Centumcellae.

The Arabs at Naples (836)

In 836 the Longobards of the dukedom of Benevento laid siege to Naples, a Byzantine city. Shamelessly, the Neapolitans asked help to Ziyadat Allah I, aghlabide emir of Tunisia. Taking advantage of this intra-Christian war, Ziyadat sent a fleet that forced the Longobards to interrupt the siege.

The Arabs at Subiaco (840)

In 840 the Arabs devastated the monastery of Subiaco.

The Arabs conquer Bari (840-871)

In 840 the Longobard Radelchi, duke of Benevento, was engaged in fighting against the rival Siconolfo. The Arabs intervened and they took advantage for conquering Bari. But in 871 the Carolingian emperor Ludovico II succeeded in freeing the city.

The Arabs at Ponza and Capo Miseno (845) In 845 the Arabs took possession of Capo Miseno, in the gulf of Naples, and of Ponza, to make of them bases in view of an attack against Rome.

The Arabs at Brindisi and Taranto (846-880)

In 846 the Arabs ransacked Brindisi and conquered Taranto. But in 880 the Byzantine emperor Basil I the Macedonian succeeded in freeing Taranto.

The Arabs attack on Ancona (848)

In 848 the Arabs ransacked Ancona.

The Arabs defeated in the naval battle of Ostia (849)

But in 849 it was rumored of the organization of a great Arabic fleet that would have attacked Rome from Sardinia. In response to this rumor, a league was constituted among the maritime cities of the South: Amalfi, Gaeta and Naples gathered their fleets to the mouth of the river Tiber near Ostia.

When the Arabic ships appeared on the horizon the Italian fleet, led by Cesarius, attacked. The Arabs were defeated. The survivors were made prisoners and enslaved. These Arab slaves were conscripted to contribute with their work to the reconstruction of what they had destroyed three years before! And so justice prevailed.

But in consequence of these attacks of the Arabs, the Christian population abandoned Ostia, and withdrew to Portus where there created some fortifications to ward off further Arab attacks. Portus survived as a Christian Corsican colony thanks to these fortifications.

The Arabs attack Canosa (856)

In 856 the Arabs attacked and destroyed the Cathedral of Canosa in Puglia.

The Arabs assault against Ascoli (861)

In 861 the Arabs occupied Ascoli in Marche, they destroyed all the Churches and slaughtered the children, while they carried off the adults as slaves. The women were forced into Harems of the Arabs as sex slaves.

The Arabs besiege Salerno (872)

In 872 the emperor Ludovicus II attacked and freed Salerno from the Arabs who had been besieging the fortified town for six months.

The Arabs in Latium and in Umbria (876)

Despite these reverses at the hands of the Franks and Italians, the Arabs regrouped and again attacked Rome in 876. Before reaching the city, the Arabs ransacked the surrounding villages, the farmers slaughtered, the villages and churches knocked down. The Roman countryside was turned by the marauding Muslim Arabs into an lifeless desert.

In response to this carnage, John VIII fitted out a fleet and led it to the victory against the Arabs at Circeo. 18 vessels were captured and 600 Christian slaves were freed from Muslim captivity. But inspite of this defeat, the Arabs regrouped and continued to devastate Latium both along the coast and in the hinterlands. In these attacks they overran and destroyed the significant town of Subiaco for the second time.

The Arab invaders arrived at around Tivoli which defended itself by resisting the Arab assault on the castle of Saracinesco. A reporter Benedict of Saint Andrea of the Soratte wrote: “regnaverunt Agareni in romano regno”. “Narni, Nepi, Orte, the countries of the Tiburtino, the valley of the Sacco, the lands of Tuscia, the Argentario mountain fell into the hands of the infidels.”

The Arabs in Campania (881)

In 881 the Bishop of Naples Athanasius played traitor when to compete with against Rome and against Byzantium he entered into an alliances with the infidel Arabs. As part of this nefarious alliance, the Arabs established at the feet of Vesuvius and at Agropoli, near Paestum.

Another traitor, Docibile, the duke of Gaeta, enemy of the Pope, granted the Arabs the right to settle near Itri, then on the right bank of Garigliano near Minturno. The Arabs built a castle, from which they conducted repeated raids on the countryside. They attacked the monasteries of Montecassino and St.Vincenzo and set them on fire.

The Arabs at Farfa (890)

In 890 the Arabic troops set siege to the Abbey of Farfa, in Sabina. The Abbot Peter resisted for six months then he was forced to surrender due to lack of food supplies for his flock. In consequence the Arabs slaughtered the inhabitants who had surrendered in good faith. The Arabs occupied Farfa and made it their base in Sabina.

The Arabs defeated and expelled from Latium and Garigliano in the year 916 CE

Mercifully, in the 10th century the Kingdom of Italy was reconstituted. In December of 915 CE Berengarius was crowned by the pope John X. And in April in the spring of 916 the struggle against the Arabs acquired a new impulse.

Berengarius put at disposal the Tuscan troops of the marquis Adalbertus and those Umbrian of the marquis Albericus of Spoleto. The Byzantine emperor Constantine sent his own fleet to the orders of the strategist Nicolaus Picingli. Landulf, prince of Capua and Benevento, Gaimar, prince of Salerno, and the dukes of Gaeta and Naples entered the alliance. Pope John X personally put himself to the head of the land troops.

The Longobards of Rieti, led by Agiprandus, advanced towards Sabina and liberated it. The troops of Sutri and Nepi defeated the Arabs near Baccano on the Cassian Way. Pope John X carried off another victory between Tivoli and Vicovaro. The Arabs were forced to withdraw to their fortress at Garigliano.

In June 916 CE, another attack was launched against the Arabs. For three months the Arabs resisted waiting for reinforcements from Sicily. When the reinforcements were intercepted and defeated the Arabs occupying the besieged fortress at Garigliano escaped from the fortress when the Italians stormed into it. The fleeing Arabs tried to flee into the mountains, but they were overtaken and defeated by the Italian troops. Italy had convincingly defeated the assault of the Arabs on Italy. But Sicily was still prisoner of the infidels. The attack and occupation of Sicily is one painful but less known chapter in Italian history.

The Arabs at Centumcellae (829)

In 829 the Arabs destroyed Centumcellae.

The Arabs at Naples (836)

In 836 the Longobards of the dukedom of Benevento laid siege to Naples, a Byzantine city. Shamelessly, the Neapolitans asked help to Ziyadat Allah I, aghlabide emir of Tunisia. Taking advantage of this intra-Christian war, Ziyadat sent a fleet that forced the Longobards to interrupt the siege.

The Arabs at Subiaco (840)

In 840 the Arabs devastated the monastery of Subiaco.

The Arabs conquer Bari (840-871)

In 840 the Longobard Radelchi, duke of Benevento, was engaged in fighting against the rival Siconolfo. The Arabs intervened and they took advantage for conquering Bari. But in 871 the Carolingian emperor Ludovico II succeeded in freeing the city.

The Arabs at Ponza and Capo Miseno (845) In 845 the Arabs took possession of Capo Miseno, in the gulf of Naples, and of Ponza, to make of them bases in view of an attack against Rome.

The Arabs at Brindisi and Taranto (846-880)

In 846 the Arabs ransacked Brindisi and conquered Taranto. But in 880 the Byzantine emperor Basil I the Macedonian succeeded in freeing Taranto.

But in spite of their raids into Italy, the sustained Muslim occupation of a part of Italy was in Sicily when the island was tyrannized by the Muslim for three centuries.

By the mid 7th century, after overrunning North Africa, the Arab Muslims turned their attention towards the North Mediterranean coast in an effort to invade the Byzantine Empire from the West. By then the Arabs, who already controlled the North African coast and Spain, considered Sicily a highly strategic step for their expansion towards the north of Italy and an advance into Europe.

The Arabs who had started developing pretensions of becoming a naval power, sent a fleet to Sicily and conquered the undefended fortress of Palermo in Sicily in 830. With Sicily as a base they started harassing the mercantile shipping in the Mediterranean, and more importantly they tried repeatedly to invade Italy from Sicily.

Select Bibliography

Gli arabi e l’Islam by Arborio Mella F. A.

Storia della Sicilia antica by Finley M. I.

Storia di Roma nel Medioevo bt Gatto L.

Storia della Sicilia medievale e moderna by Mack Smith D.

Storia dell’Impero Bizantino by Ostrogorsky G.

Un commento su “jihad against rome

  1. Ciao fratello…. vedo che ti sei dato ad una veste prettamente storica…. che ho letto con il mio inglese non proprio accademico.
    Se per caso vedi Monica salutamela tanto… ci scambiamo qualche sms di tanto in tanto.
    Speravo di riuscire a creare qualche contatto di lavoro a Roma, ma per ora è un po’ difficile… spero in futuro di condensare qualcosa di fruttuoso… in modo da potermi organizzare una mostra… ti saprò dire. un caro saluto a te ed ai tuoi cari. a presto

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