The beginning of the tenth century was marked by active operations of the Muslim fleet. Even at the end of the ninth century Cretan pirates had repeatedly raided the coasts of the Peloponnesus and the islands of the Aegean Sea. These sea raids of the Arabs became still more dangerous when their Syrian and Cretan fleets began to act together. The attack of Thessalonica by the Muslim fleet under the leadership of the Greek renegade, Leo of Tripolis, in 904 is the most famous deed of the Arabs in this period. The city was taken only after a long and difficult siege, but a few days after its fall the conquerors departed with a large number of prisoners and rich spoils, setting sail eastward to Syria. It was only after this disaster that the Byzantine government began the fortification of Thessalonica. A detailed account of the Arabian raid of the city came from the pen of John Cameniates, a priest who lived through all the hardships of the siege.
The successful naval operations of the Arabs forced the Byzantine rulers to devote more attention to the improvement of their own fleet. The result was that in 906 the Byzantine admiral Himerius gained a brilliant victory over the Arabs in the Aegean. But in 911 the great sea expedition of Leo VI against the allied eastern and Cretan Arabs, also headed by Himerius, ended in complete failure for the empire. In his exact account of the composition of this expedition Constantine Porphyrogenitus spoke of the presence of 700 Russians.
Thus the Byzantine struggle with the Arabs was highly unsuccessful in the time of Leo VI: in the west Sicily was definitely lost; in southern Italy Byzantine troops failed to accomplish anything after the recall of Nicephorus Phocas; on the eastern border the Arabs were slowly but persistently going forward; and on the sea the Byzantine fleet suffered several serious defeats.
A History of the Byzantine Empire - Table of Contents
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