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Battle of the Masts (Arabic: معركة ذات الصواري,
romanized Ma‘rakat Dhāt al-Ṣawārī) or Battle of Phoenix was a
crucial naval battle fought in 654 (A.H. 34) between the
Abu'l-Awar and the Byzantine fleet under the personal command
of Emperor Constans II. The battle is considered to be "the
first decisive conflict of Islam on the deep" as well as part of
the earliest campaign by Muawiyah to conquer Constantinople.
4 Siege of
Constantinople of 654
Al-Tabari records two possible dates for this naval battle: 651-2
(A.H. 31) on the authority of al-Waqidi and 654-5 (A.H. 34) on the
authority of Abu Ma'shar al-Sindi. The chronicles of the Armenian
Sebeos and Byzantine Theophanes concur with the latter date.
In the 650s, the Arab Caliphate finished off the
Sasanian Empire and
continued its successful expansion into the Byzantine Empire's
territories. In 645,
Abdallah ibn Sa'd was made Governor of
his foster brother
Rashidun Caliph Uthman, replacing the
semi-independent 'Amr ibn al-'As.
Uthman permitted Muawiyah to raid
the island of
Cyprus in 649 and the success of that campaign set the
stage for the undertaking of naval activities by the Government of
Abdallah ibn Sa'd built a strong navy and proved to be a
skilled naval commander. Under him the
Muslim navy won a number of
naval victories including repulsing a Byzantine counter-attack on
Alexandria in 646.
In 654, Muawiyah undertook an expedition in
Cappadocia while his
fleet, under the command of Abu'l-Awar, advanced along the southern
coast of Anatolia. Emperor Constans embarked against it with a large
The two forces met off the coast of Mount Phoenix in Lycia, near
the harbour of Phoenix (modern Finike). According to the 9th century
chronicler Theophanes the Confessor, as the Emperor was preparing for
battle, on the previous night he dreamed that he was in Thessalonica;
awaking he related the dream to an interpreter of dreams who said:
Emperor, would that you had not slept nor seen that dream for your
presence in Thessalonica – according to the interpreter, victory
inclined to the Emperor's foes.
Due to the rough seas, Tabari describes the Byzantine and Arab ships
being arranged in lines and lashed together, to allow for melee
Arabs were victorious in battle, although losses were
heavy for both sides, and Constans barely escaped to
Constantinople. According to Theophanes, he managed to make his
escape by exchanging uniforms with one of his officers.
Constantinople of 654
Following their defeat, the respite the Byzantines were granted is
typically ascribed to the Arab fleet retreating after its victory and
conflict over the authority of
Uthman among the crew, the first
stirrings of a civil war among the Muslims. No further naval
attacks on this expedition are recorded in traditional
However the Armenian historian
Sebeos records that the Arab fleet
continued on beyond the battle at Phoenix to attempt a siege of
Constantinople. The siege was unsuccessful, however, due to a fierce
storm that sunk the ships with war machines aboard, an event the
Byzantines attributed to divine intervention. The land force led by
Muawiyah in Chalcedon, having lost their artillery and siege engines,
returned to Syria thereafter.
Muslim sources do not mention this event but it corresponds to notices
in other Christian histories of the eastern Mediterranean, such as the
chronicle of Theophanes. It suggests the early 650s invasions of
Rhodes, Cyprus, and Asia Minor were preparatory to a full-scale
assault on the walls of Byzantium. Also it provides a strategic
explanation for the Arab fleet's retreat following the victory in the
Battle of the Masts, since the
First Fitna would not break out until a
year later, perhaps influenced by setbacks against the Byzantines and
in the Caucasus.
Battle of the Masts was a significant milestone in the history of
the Mediterranean, Islam and the Byzantine Empire, as it established
the superiority of the Muslims at sea as well as on land. For the next
four centuries, the Mediterranean would be a battleground between
Byzantines and Muslims.
^ a b c d Salvatore, Cosentino,. "
Constans II and the Byzantine navy".
Byzantinische Zeitschrift. 100. ISSN 0007-7704.
^ a b Hoyland, Robert G. (2014-01-01). In God's Path: The Arab
Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire. Oxford University
Press. p. 107. ISBN 9780199916368.
^ a b c Ṭabarī (1990-01-01). The History of al-Tabari Vol. 15: The
Crisis of the Early Caliphate: The Reign of '
Uthman A.D. 644-656/A.H.
24-35. SUNY Press. p. 77. ISBN 9780791401545.
^ Ridpath, John Clark. Ridpath's Universal History, Merrill &
Baker, Vol. 12, New York, p. 483.
^ a b c Theophanes the Confessor, Chronographia, in J.P. Migne,
Patrologia Graeca, vol.108, col.705
^ Carl F. Petry (ed.), The Cambridge History of Egypt, Volume One,
Egypt 640–1517, Cambridge University Press, 1998, 67.
^ Probably Mount Olympos south of Antalya, see "Olympus Phoinikous
Mons" in Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, map 65, D4.
^ Thessalonike can be read as «θὲς ἄλλῳ νὶκην»,
i.e., «give victory to another». See Bury, John Bagnell (1889), A
history of the later Roman empire from Arcadius to Irene, Adamant
Media Corporation, 2005, p.290. ISBN 1-4021-8368-2
^ a b Warren Treadgold, A history of the Byzantine State and Society,
Stanford University Press 1997, 314. ISBN 0-8047-2630-2
^ a b O'Sullivan, Shaun (2004-01-01). "Sebeos' account of an Arab
Constantinople in 654". Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies.
28 (1): 67–88. doi:10.1179/byz.2004.28.1.67.
Coordinates: 36°16′55″N 30°15′39″E / 36.281898°N
30.260732°E / 36