Arab invasions of Sicily The Emirate of Sicily was an Islamic state on the island of Sicily (in Southern Italy), which existed from 965 to 1072. Its capital was Palermo.
First Arab invasions of SicilyThe first true conquest expeditionwas launched in 740: in that yearthe Muslim prince Habib, whohad participated on the 728attack, successfully capturedSyracuse. Ready to conquer thewhole island, they were howeverforced to return to Tunisia by aBerber revolt. A second attack in752 aimed only to sack the samecity.
Reasons of the warIn 826 Euphemius, the commander of the Byzantine fleet of Sicily,forced a nun to marry him. Emperor Michael II caught wind of thematter and ordered that general Constantine end the marriage andcut off Euphemius nose. Euphemius rose up, killed Constantineand then occupied Syracuse; he in turn was defeated and drivenout to North Africa. He offered rule of Sicily over to Ziyadat Allahthe Aghlabid Emir of Tunisia in return for a place as a general andsafety; an Arab army was sent. The latter agreed to conquer Sicily,promising to give it to Euphemius in exchange for a yearly tribute,and entrusted its conquest to the 70-year-old qadi Asad ibn al-Furat.
Aghlabid victory near MazaraThe Muslim force counted 10,000 infantry, 700 cavalry and 100ships, reinforced by Euphemius ships and, after the landing atMazara del Vallo, knights. A first battle against the loyal Byzantinetroops occurred on July 15, 827, near Mazara, resulting in anAghlabid victory.
The occupationAsad subsequently conquered the southern shore of the islandand laid siege to Syracuse. After a year of siege, and an attemptedmutiny, his troops were however able to defeat a large army sentfrom Palermo, also backed by a Venetian fleet led by DogeGiustiniano Participazio. But when a plague killed many of theMuslim troops, as well as Asad himself, the Muslims retreated tothe castle of Mineo. Later they returned to the offensive, but failedto conquer Castrogiovanni (the modern Enna, where Euphemiusdied) and retreated back to Mazara.In 830 they received a strong reinforcement of 30,000 African andAndalusian troops. The Iberian Muslims defeated the Byzantinecommander Teodotus in July–August of that year, but again aplague forced them to return to Mazara and then to Africa. TheAfrican Berber units sent to besiege Palermo managed to captureit after a year long siege in September 831.
Results of the warPalermo became the Muslim capital of Sicily, renamed al-Madinah("The City").The conquest was a see-saw affair; with considerable resistanceand many internal struggles, it took over a century for ByzantineSicily to be conquered. Syracuse held out for a long time but fell in878, Taormina fell in 902, and the last Byzantine outpost wastaken in 965.
Emirate of SicilyIn succession Sicily was ruled by the Sunni Aghlabid dynasty inTunisia and the Shiite Fatimids in Egypt. The Byzantines tookadvantage of temporary discord to occupy the eastern end of theisland for several years.After suppressing a revolt the Fatimid caliph Ismail al-Mansurappointed Hassan al-Kalbi (948–964) as Emir of Sicily. Hesuccessfully managed to control the continuously revoltingByzantines and founded the Kalbid dynasty. Raids into SouthernItaly continued under the Kalbids into the 11th century, and in 982a German army under Otto II, Holy Roman Emperor was defeatednear Crotone in Calabria. With Emir Yusuf al-Kalbi (986–998) aperiod of steady decline began. Under al-Akhal (1017–1037) thedynastic conflict intensified, with factions within the ruling familyallying themselves variously with the Byzantine Empire and theZirids.
The begin of the decayThe Norman Robert Guiscard, son of Tancred, invaded Sicily in1060. The island was split between three Arab emirs, and thesizable Christian population rose up against the ruling Muslims.After taking Apulia and Calabria, Roger I occupied Messina with anarmy of 700 knights. In 1068, Roger de Hauteville and his mendefeated the Muslims at Misilmeri but the most crucial battle wasthe siege of Palermo, which led to Sicily being completely inNorman control by 1091. After the conquest of Sicily, the Normansremoved the local emir, Yusuf Ibn Abdallah from power, but did soby respecting Arab customs.
DeclineThe loss of the cities, each with a splendid harbor, dealt a severeblow to Muslim power on the island. The city of Qasr Ianni was stillruled by its emir, Ibn Al-Hawas, who held out for years. Hissuccessor, Hamud, surrendered, and converted to Christianity,only in 1087. After his conversion, Ibn Hamud subsequentlybecame part of the Christian nobility and retired with his family toan estate in Calabria provided by Roger I. In 1091, Butera andNoto in the southern tip of Sicily and the island of Malta, the lastArab strongholds, fell to the Christians with ease. By the 11thcentury Muslim power in the Mediterranean had begun to wane