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827-828 Conquest of Crete ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Outcome: The Arabs invaded Crete and gradually captured the whole island 827-828
War  &  Enemy: Enemy:
Arabs (Andalusian)
Byzantine-Muslim Wars
Battle Type:
The Battlefield Crete Location:
Island of Crete
Modern Country:
  The Byzantines(emperor:  Michael II the Stammerer) The Enemies
Commander: Unknown Emir Umar Abu Hafs
Forces: Unknown 40 ships, c. 3000 warriors, 12,000 total
Background story: Crete had been the target of Muslim attacks since the first wave of the Muslim conquests in the mid-7th century. There had been many raids but the island was never conquered.
At some point in the 820’ s, a group of Arab Andalusian sailed eastwards. They were the survivors of a failed revolt against the emir of Córdoba in 818. In the aftermath of its suppression, the citizens of the Cordovan suburb of al-Rabad were exiled en masse. Some settled in Morocco, but others, numbering over 10,000, took to piracy, probably joined by other Andalusians.
Some of the latter group, under the leadership of Umar ibn Hafs ibn Shuayb ibn Isa al Balluti, commonly known as Abu Hafs, landed in Alexandria and took control of the city until 827, when they were besieged and expelled by the Abbasids.
Ousted from Egypt, the exiles decided to visit Crete.
The Battle:
Arab conquest of Crete
The Andalusians were already familiar with Crete, having raided it in the past. The Muslim landing was initially intended as a raid, and was transformed into a kind of conquest when Abu Hafs himself set fire to their ships (although this story could be an invention).
The Arabs' landing-place is unknown; some scholars think that it was at the north coast, at Suda Bay or near where their main city and fortress Chandax (modern Heraklion) was later built, but others think that they most likely landed on the south coast of the island, and then moved to the northern coast.
As soon as he learned of the Arab invasion, Emperor Michael II reacted and sent successive expeditions to recover the island. Byzantium's ability to respond effectively however was curtailed by the losses suffered during the revolt of Thomas the Slav and maybe because of the Arabian invasion in Sicily which started in the same period.
The first expedition, under Photeinos, strategos of the Anatolic Theme, and Damian, Count of the Stable, was defeated in open battle, where Damian was killed.
The next expedition was sent a year later and comprised 70 ships under the strategos of the Cibyrrhaeots Krateros. It was initially victorious, but the over-confident Byzantines were then routed in a night attack. Krateros managed to flee to Kos, but there he was captured by the Arabs and crucified. Having repulsed the early Byzantine attacks, Abu Hafs slowly consolidated his control of the entire island, and installed himself as the island's ruler. He recognized the sovereignty of the Abbasid Caliphate, but ruled as a de facto independent prince.
Aftermath: The conquest was of major importance, as it transformed the naval balance of power in the Eastern Mediterranean and opened up the Aegean Sea coasts to frequent and devastating raids. It was the start of the golden period of the Saracen piracy.