Byzantium and Antioch, 10-12th centuries

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,870
Blachernai
After Nikephoros II Phokas's troops took it in 969, Antioch became the centre of Byzantine activity in Syria and was given the full complement of Byzantine administration. While Antioch may be the fastest reachable hub in Syria from Constantinople, it's still an inland city on a minor river, which limits its population and prevents easy supply from the sea (its port at Laodikeia is 15km or so away). For most of the next century, we see Antioch serving as a fairly important military command that is primarily used to keep the Hamdanids, the other local power in northern Syria, in line, and as a base to prevent further expansion by the Fatimids. Constantinople seems to have regarded it rather highly - Basil II engaged in a big forced march to interrupt a Fatimid Syrian campaign, and he had one of his most able generals, Nikephoros Ouranos, posted there for quite a while. After Antioch is taken by the Turks and then the crusaders, we see a great deal of effort exerted on the part of Byzantium to reclaim it, or at least attain nominal suzerainty. Alexios I, John II, and Manuel I all engaged in military operations with the goal of regaining Antioch.

Does Constantinople have a consistent strategy towards Antioch? What's the goal here? Why put so much effort into holding an exposed city that is not terribly defensible and which is outside the mountain chain that protected the Byzantine heartland for so many centuries? Was it really just a forward base to play politics in Syria and keep pressure away from the interior of the empire?
 
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deaf tuner

Ad Honoris
Oct 2013
14,533
Europix
After Nikephoros II Phokas's troops took it in 969, Antioch became the centre of Byzantine activity in Syria and was given the full complement of Byzantine administration. While Antioch may be the fastest reachable hub in Syria from Constantinople, it's still an inland city on a minor river, which limits its population and prevents easy supply from the sea (its port at Laodikeia is 15km or so away). For most of the next century, we see Antioch serving as a fairly important military command that is primarily used to keep the Hamdanids, the other local power in northern Syria, in line, and as a base to prevent further expansion by the Fatimids. Constantinople seems to have regarded it rather highly - Basil II engaged in a big forced march to interrupt a Fatimid Syrian campaign, and he had one of his most able generals, Nikephoros Ouranos, posted there for quite a while. After Antioch is taken by the Turks and then the crusaders, we see a great deal of effort exerted on the part of Byzantium to reclaim it, or at least attain nominal suzerainty. Alexios I, John II, and Manuel I all engaged in military operations with the goal of regaining Antioch.

Does Constantinople have a consistent strategy towards Antioch? What's the goal here? Why put so much effort into holding an exposed city that is not terribly defensible and which is outside the mountain chain that protected the Byzantine heartland for so many centuries? Was it really just a forward base to play politics in Syria and keep pressure away from the interior of the empire?
I do not know the Byzantine strategy,but the city was well situated geographically: it was an important crossroad, the river was navigable and the plain was fertile.

Usually, those are features that makes a city important. If I am not mistaken, it was important before Byzantium already (ancient Greeks, Romans, Persians considered it as such, AFAIK)
 
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botully

Ad Honorem
Feb 2011
3,545
Amelia, Virginia, USA
One of the cities of the Pentarchy added some prestige, I suppose, but the Byzantines seem more practical than that.
In the mid 10th the Empire was flexing some muscle, retaking Crete around the same time. There’s no question that the Crete campaign greatly added to the security of the Empire, and I think Antioch would as well.
 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,682
I would guess that Antioch was seen as the foothold for both the defence and potentially eventual reconquest of the Levant- something probably out of reach of Byzantines by Alexios reign but still contemplated. Earlier Antioch was the most important city of the east outside of Alexandria and co-existed with Constantinople as a premier city for a couple of centuries but archaeology and written records confirm something like 3-4 major rebuilding efforts with the city in Alexios time being more like a large town but well fortified and provisioned though it is an open question why a site closer to the sea wasn't chosen- perhaps it was seen a historically important, more easily defended, and outside of direct siege the port was close enough for trade and supplies from the Mediterranean to reach easily even if the Orontes wasn't navigable in this period.

I've seen some interesting digital reconstructions of Roman Antioch prior to the 7th century nadir but I don't know how large the city the Crusaders besieged was in comparison nor how obvious the ruins of the ancient city were in this era.

The main point I would question is how defensible it was after the Byzantine restoration compared to other potential sites south of the Tarsus- to me it is relatively defensible compared to most alternatives but it would take surveyor, geologist and some imagination to really guess what the Byzantines would have seen as alternatives during their time not to mention I would believe the history of the site would give it an edge over other sites of nearly the same defensive potential which looking at terrain maps seems actually quite limited.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
4,992
Sydney
to hold Antioch is to have control over the Cilicia gates , a series of passes through the Taurus mountains

for Byzantium it would allow reinforcements to arrive safely to a good rest spot and allow operation all over Northern Syria and the coast
it would act as an excellent forward defense for Southern Anatolia

for an opponent it would lock the gates , an army couldn't sustain itself in the mountain without a base
the whole of the levantine coast , Allepo and Homs would be safe