What prevented Arab invasion of the Italian Peninsula?

Mar 2013
1,375
Escandinavia y Mesopotamia
#1
In 717 the vast Umayyad Caliphate tried and failed to capture Constantinople, and was destroyed by the Byzantines. For that reason (East)Europe went to Christianity later.

In 732 the Battle of Tours found place in which Charles Martel smashed the Muslim army. It is debatable whether the Muslim army was an invading army or just a raiding army. Whatsoever, Charles Martel’s control of France meant a Carolingian family ruled there, and eventual (West)Europe became Christian.

Caucasia was mountainous, and not to mention the Khazars, who often collaborated with Byzantines, and they prevented the Muslims to reach Europe from that direction.

East to the Caspian sea there was a vast steppe area in which is impossible for the (early) Muslims to control in first place. So, it prevented the Muslims to reach Europe from that direction also.

However, one thing is not clear for me: What or who is responsible for preventing the Arabs from capturing Italy?


South Italy was in Byzantine control for about 500 years. In the 800s Byzantines lost Sicily to Arabs, but maintained control of Calabria and Southern Puglia. In 846 the Arabs managed to reach outside Rome with a base in Bari, and plundered the former Peter's Basilica (which was small and outside the city's wall back then). Eventually the Papal State emerged around Rome. In the second half of 1000s the Normans took whole South Italy plus Sicily, and even Tunisia.

So I wonder?: who/what prevented Arabs during the 700s to reach and capture Italy? Was it Byzantine presence in Calabria and Southern Puglia that prevented Arabs from taking Italy? Would the Arabs have take Italy without Byzantine presence in South Italy?

The map around year 1000:
 
Last edited:

macon

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
3,520
Slovenia
#2
Duchy of Benevento (Principality after 774) was holding most of south Italy in 8th century. I was reading that they were viewing themselves as successors of Kingdom of Langobards and Franks never subdued them, maybe only formally.

They were probably having some real muscle and leadership so Arabs never tried to invade them. And of course Byzantines were also having some naval squadrons but I can't compare strengths of Christians and Arabs in that time. To me it seems quite fragmented, Arabs were far from their logistic lines and south Italy was probably not very tempting: poor land, rugged terrain and tough people. Not much to plunder and no way to get rich in one campaign and conquest.

 
Nov 2010
7,269
Cornwall
#3
I think you need to ask yourself why they conquered Spain. They had a ready-made ally in Ceuta/Tangier, the ex-Bizantine governor now part of the Visigothic sphere. You had a fair number of disaffected Goths, probably an agreement with repressed jews. You then had a small stretch of water between Ceuta and Algeciras and the former imperial ships to ferry them over. You also had access to local berber/mauri troops requiring loot.

None of this applies to 'Italy' as far as I know so the 'Spanish' option was much much easier. What I have read is that they needed the old imperial ships in Ceuta because their own ships were tied up fighting in the central Med.
 
Jul 2017
11
Europe
#4
Not sure about 700 in particular but during the Middle Ages Maritime Republics played a great role in keeping Arabs and Ottomans out. Italian MR also had strong economic ties with Middle East, this might be a reason why they didn't have invaded Italy.
Also Italian states formed many Holy alliances against Arab/Berber raids. Ex: Battle of Ostia - Wikipedia
 

Maki

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
2,180
Republika Srpska
#5
Perhaps the long time it took them to conquer Sicily convinced them that a full-blown invasion of Italy was simply not feasible.
 

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
24,688
Lago Maggiore, Italy
#6
The mention of the Langobards is correct. But probably they can make the pair with the Arab powers: if they were so powerful and invincible ... why didn't they conquer Arab Sicily?

There reason is the same: Langobards and Arabs weren't great navigators. And if the land to conquer is not in front of you [like when you invade Spain from Morocco ...] you need to navigate. Italy is a peninsula with very long coasts, if you don't rule the waves you cannot conquer it.
 
Mar 2013
1,375
Escandinavia y Mesopotamia
#7
In chapter 8 titled “The Bulwark Against Islam” Judith Herrin argues that Byzantium not only secured East Europe to go into Ortodox-Christianity, but ALSO secured indirectly that West Europe to go into Catholic-Christianity because Byzantium functioned as a bulwark and thus the Catholics in West could easily spread their religion into Germany/Poland/Scandinavia without worrying about a potential unified Umayyad Caliphate coming from east from the Dardanelles.

Byzantines themselves secured Ortodox-Christianity to East Europe and particularly Russia which later would beat the Ottomans almost continually.


It is quite amazing to think how a decimated byzantine state in 717-718 managed to trick Maslama and his vast army into starvation and at the same time contribute significantly to destroy the unified Caliphate that never was united after that event.


From Herrin’s work in chapter 8:


“Ever since the 1930s, when the great Belgian historian Henri Pirenne pointed out the significance of the Arab expansion with the memorable phrase ‘Without Muhammed, Charlemagne is inconceivable’, Islam has been connected with the emergence of Europe. He argued that the Muslim disruption of ancient trade patterns, which had united all shores of the Mediterranean, forced northern Europe to develop its own economic base, independently of the south. Contacts across the North Sea with Britain and Scandinavia led eventually to the development of the Hanseatic League that linked Germany with the Baltic regions. Pirenne failed, however, to acknowledge the role played by Byzantium in preventing continued Muslim expansion across Asia Minor, the Dardanelles and into Europe.


Instead of analysing how the empire fought for its existence, he took for granted its role in shielding the West. But if Constantinople had fallen to the Arabs in the mid-seventh century, they would have used its great wealth and imperial power to advance directly into Europe. The broad swathe of early Muslim conquests would have been replicated throughout the Balkans and farther west, where the Slavonic and Germanic peoples would not have been able to resist. And without its Christian hinterland, Rome too would surely have converted. Without Byzantium, Europe as we know it is inconceivable.”
 
Likes: Edratman
Nov 2014
1,455
Birmingham, UK
#8
In chapter 8 titled “The Bulwark Against Islam” Judith Herrin argues that Byzantium not only secured East Europe to go into Ortodox-Christianity, but ALSO secured indirectly that West Europe to go into Catholic-Christianity because Byzantium functioned as a bulwark and thus the Catholics in West could easily spread their religion into Germany/Poland/Scandinavia without worrying about a potential unified Umayyad Caliphate coming from east from the Dardanelles.

Byzantines themselves secured Ortodox-Christianity to East Europe and particularly Russia which later would beat the Ottomans almost continually.


It is quite amazing to think how a decimated byzantine state in 717-718 managed to trick Maslama and his vast army into starvation and at the same time contribute significantly to destroy the unified Caliphate that never was united after that event.


From Herrin’s work in chapter 8:


“Ever since the 1930s, when the great Belgian historian Henri Pirenne pointed out the significance of the Arab expansion with the memorable phrase ‘Without Muhammed, Charlemagne is inconceivable’, Islam has been connected with the emergence of Europe. He argued that the Muslim disruption of ancient trade patterns, which had united all shores of the Mediterranean, forced northern Europe to develop its own economic base, independently of the south. Contacts across the North Sea with Britain and Scandinavia led eventually to the development of the Hanseatic League that linked Germany with the Baltic regions. Pirenne failed, however, to acknowledge the role played by Byzantium in preventing continued Muslim expansion across Asia Minor, the Dardanelles and into Europe.


Instead of analysing how the empire fought for its existence, he took for granted its role in shielding the West. But if Constantinople had fallen to the Arabs in the mid-seventh century, they would have used its great wealth and imperial power to advance directly into Europe. The broad swathe of early Muslim conquests would have been replicated throughout the Balkans and farther west, where the Slavonic and Germanic peoples would not have been able to resist. And without its Christian hinterland, Rome too would surely have converted. Without Byzantium, Europe as we know it is inconceivable.”

I think Herrin is much too unequivocal in saying the Muslim conquests *would* have ensued or that Rome would *surely* convert.

It may be a case could be made for those eventualities, but to treat them as certainties strikes me as extremely glib, in fact rather stupid and unhistorical. The Muslim conquests would go as far as encompassing the Germanic peoples? This is a foregone conclusion?
 

Maki

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
2,180
Republika Srpska
#9
I don't know about Rome, but I am pretty certain that Balkan Slavs would have converted to Islam had the Muslims been able to destroy Byzantium.
 

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
24,688
Lago Maggiore, Italy
#10
If we consider the period when the Arabs conquered Sicily, first of all we have to underline that they took not a few years to take over a not enormous isle [about 70 years and a city, Rometta, resisted for other 60 years ...].

It happened in the 9th century CE and while the Arabs were struggling to control Sicily the Sea Republics were growing [Amalfi started its adventure in 839CE, the Arabs landed in Sicily in 827 CE and they had to fight until 902 CE to be owner of Sicily, a part Rometta, as said].

Venice was already there, so that the Adriatic wasn't an easy way to approach the peninsula. And Gaeta was going to be independent from the Byzantine Empire soon, in 839 CE.

In good substance, since the powerful municipalities were still to come, without a great Navy it was more easy to invade the Italian peninsula from North, passing the Alps [like Goths, Franks and Lombards did ...]. Byzantines had a remarkable Navy, so that they didn't need to march through Eastern Europe to reach the lands where I live [Northern Italy].

Historically, the Ottomans made a serious attempt to obtain the control of the Mediterranean Sea, but they failed. Probably we can say that naval warfare has been a historical limit of Arab and generally Muslim powers.
 
Likes: Edratman

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