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From Centumcellae to the Garigliano


In IX century the Arabs, who had already taken possession of the whole North-Africa and of Spain but who had had a standstill in France at Poitiers, attacked Italy.

The attack initially turned toward the coastal zones and the islands and then went up again toward the internal places.

Sicily resisted for many decades to the armies of the invaders, but finally had to surrender and was completely overcome by the arrival of hundreds of thousand of Muslim immigrants who destroyed a civilization that from the VIII century before Christ had contributed to the creation of the identity of the West.

Then the Arabs attacked the Center (Ponza, Gaeta, Ancona, Ascoli, Civitavecchia, etc.) and the South (Salerno, Naples, Bari, Brindisi, Taranto, etc.) and they resolutely headed for Rome to strike to the heart the Christianity.

The infidels profaned St. Peter but the Aurelian walls resisted to the assault and Rome was safe.

Pope John X, to an army's guide constituted by Italians of various origin (Romans, Greeks, Longobards, Franks, etc.), but of an only faith and culture, defeated and sent away from Lazio and Campania the Arabs, who had even tried to constitute a Muslim state near the Garigliano.

Place: Italy

Epoch: from 813 to 916 AD


The Arabs to the assault of the coasts and the Italian islands (813)

In 813 the Arabs attacked by surprise Centumcellae (Civitavecchia).

Ischia and Lampedusa were devastated.

They had besides some attacks to Sardinia and Corsica.

The Arabs conquer Sicily with a long war (827-965)

In 805 the Byzantine governor of Sicily stipulated an essay with the aghlabidi rulers of Tunisia.

In 813 the Byzantine governor of Sicily signed a decennial truce with the Arabs.

In 827 the Byzantine admiral Euphemius rebelled, killed the governor of Sicily, conquered Syracuse and proclaimed himself emperor. The troops faithful to Byzantium, led by the Armenian general Palata, resumed the control. Euphemius ran away to Africa.

Then Euphemius proposed to the aghlabide emir of Kairuan, Ziyadat Allah I, to conquer Sicily and to make it tributary province. In exchange he asked to be recognized governor with the title of emperor.

On June 17 th 827 the general Asad ibn al-Furat with an army of 10.000 soldiers and 7.000 cavalrymen disembarked at Mazara del Vallo. The general Theodorus stopped the Arabic army before it reached Syracuse. A new army was sent in help of the Arabs who decided to head for Palermo rather than Syracuse.

On September 11 th 831 Palermo fell.

In 835 the Arabs took Pantelleria and in 843 Messina.

Enna and Cefalý fought for years before being conquered, razed to the ground and burnt. Cefalý fell in 858. Enna fell in 859 for treason. Then it was the turn of Malta.

Syracuse was conquered only in 878. The Arabs massacred the whole population. The Greek language was replaced by the Arab. Christianity was replaced by the Islamism. The sword of the Islam dominated from Palermo new capital. Sicily was lost.

Syracuse didn't get back anymore the role, that had had for 1500 years, of first city of Sicily.

The glorious history of ancient Sicily finished in the blood.

Some hotbeds of resistance kept on surviving. Taormina resisted up to 902, then was burnt and all its inhabitants killed. Rometta, on the mountains west of Messina, was the last to fall in 965.

An African army in 938-940 devastated wide zones of the southwest of Sicily, but at that point there was nothing more to be plundered.

In the cities that had opposed resistance all the were killed and the women and the boys reduced in slavery. The women and the most beautiful boys were sent to Africa for the pleasure of the conquerors and their co-religionists.

The inhabitants of the Sicilian cities that had surrendered without fighting could keep on practising the Christian religion but:

- they had to bring identification marks on their suits and on their houses;

- they had to pay more taxes;

- they could not occupy positions that entailed authority over the Muslims;

- they could not marry a Muslim (but a Muslim could marry a Christian);

- they could not build new churches;

- they could not ring the bells;

- they could not make processions;

- they could not read the Bible within the radius of the hearing of a Muslim;

- they could not drink wine in public;

- they had to get up whena Muslim entered the room;

- they had to let the Muslims pass first in the public road;

- they could not bring weapons;

- they could not ride;

- they could not saddle their mules;

- they could not build great houses as those of the Muslims.

The Christian women could not have access to the baths when Muslim women were there. In Byzantine Sicily there were the prostitutes who could not enter the baths contemporarily with honest women.

Hundreds of thousand of Muslims immigrated to Sicily. The juridical advantages granted to them, the availability of lands seized to the Christians, the possibility to have labour at low cost (Christians driven to hunger because of plunderings), the abundance of slaves (girls and boys) constituted an irresistible attraction for people who lived in the desolation of the desert. The Africans found in Sicily a terrestrial heaven, the Christians the hell.

The Arabs at Centumcellae (829)

In 829 the Arabs destroyed Centumcellae.

The Arabs at Naples (836)

In 836 the Longobards of the dukedom of Benevento laid siege to Naples, Byzantine city. The Neapolitans asked help to Ziyadat Allah I, aghlabide emir of Tunisia. Ziyadat sent a fleet that forced the Longobards to interrupt the siege.

The Arabs at Subiaco (840)

In 840 the Arabs devastated the monastery of Subiaco.

The Arabs conquer Bari (840-871)

In 840 the Longobard Radelchi, duke of Benevento, asked help to the Arabs to fight against the rival Siconolfo. The Arabs intervened and they took advantage for conquering Bari.

In 871 the Carolingian emperor Ludovico II succeeded in freeing the city.

The Arabs at Ponza and Capo Miseno (845)

In 845 the Arabs took possession of Capo Miseno, in the gulf of Naples, and of Ponza, to make of them bases in view of an attack against Rome.

The Arabs at Brindisi and Taranto (846-880)

In 846 the Arabs ransacked Brindisi and conquered Taranto.

In 880 the Byzantine emperor Basil I the Macedonian succeeded in freeing Taranto.

The Arabs attack Rome (846)

On August 10 th 846 the marquis Adalbertus of Tuscany, who watches over Corsica, writes to the pope to warn him of a near attack of the Arabs. But it is too late.

On August 28 th 846 the Arabs arrived at the mouth of the river Tiber and they sailed towards Rome.

From Civitavecchia an army started the descent by land in direction of Rome.

Another army began the march from Portus and Ostia.

They didn't succeed in entering the enclosing walls, validly defended by the Romans, but the churches of St. Peter and St. Paul, outside the boundaries, were violated by the Arabs.

Uselessly Saxons, Longobards, Frisians and Franks defended St. Peter up to the last man. The Arabs brought away all the treasures of St. Peter, they tore the silver leaves of the doors, the gold foils of the floor of the confession, devastated the bronzy crypt of the apostle, took the gold cross that stood on the grave of Peter. They laid waste all the churches of the district Suburb.

The marquis Guy of Spoleto, arrived to help Rome, succeeded in defeating the Arabs who withdrew partly towards Civitavecchia and partly towards Fondi, following the Appian Way.

The Arabs' passage, in flight, provoked ruin and devastation in all the Roman country.

At Gaeta the Longobard army clashed again with the Arabs. Guy of Spoleto found himself in serious difficulties, but the Byzantine troops of Cesarius, son of Sergius, magister militum in Naples, arrived in time.

In November of 846 a storm provoked numerous damages to the ships of the Arabs, some of which were shipwrecked on the coast.

The pope Leo IV, in consequence of the attack against St. Peter, in 848 undertook the construction of the Civitas Leonina to protect the Vatican hill. The enclosing walls were completed in June 27 th 852.

The Arabs at Ancona (848)

In 848 the Arabs ransacked Ancona.

The Arabs defeated in the naval battle of Ostia (849)

In 849 it was rumoured of the organization of a great Arabic fleet that would have attacked Rome from Sardinia.

A league was constituted among the maritime cities of the South: Amalfi, Gaeta and Naples gathered their fleets to the mouth of the river Tiber near Ostia.

When the Arabic ships appeared on the horizon the Italian fleet, led by Cesarius, attacked. The Arabs were defeated. The survivors were made prisoners and they contributed with their work to the reconstruction of what they had destroyed three years before.

In consequence of the attacks of the Arabs the population abandoned Ostia, where there were created some fortifications. Portus still survived thanks to a Corsican colony.

The Arabs at Canosa (856)

In 856 the Arabs attacked and destroyed Canosa in Puglia.

The Arabs against Ascoli (861)

In 861 the Arabs occupied Ascoli in Marche.

The Arabs besiege Salerno (872)

In 872 the emperor Ludovicus II freed Salerno from the siege of the Arabs.

The Arabs in Latium and in Umbria (876)

In 876 the Arabs entered again the territory of Rome. The villages were ransacked, the farmers slaughtered, the constructions knocked down. The Roman country turned into an unhealthy desert.

John VIII fitted out a fleet and led it to the victory against the Arabs at Circeo. 18 vessels were captured and were freed 600 Christian slaves. But the Arabs will continue to devastate Latium both on the coast and in the inside.

Subiaco will be destroyed for the second time.

Near Tivoli it will be erected the castle of Saracinesco and in Sabina that of Ciciliano.

Narni, Nepi, Orte, the countries of the Tiburtino, the valley of the Sacco, the lands of Tuscia, the Argentario mountain fell in the hands of the infidels. As the reporter Benedict of Saint Andrea of the Soratte wrote: "regnaverunt Agareni in romano regno".

The Arabs in Campania (881)

In 881 the Bishop of Naples Athanasius welcomed the Arabs, his allies against Rome and against Byzantium. The Arabs established at the feet of Vesuvius and at Agropoli, near Paestum.

Docibile, the duke of Gaeta, enemy of the pope, granted to the Arabs to settle themselves near Itri, then on the right bank of Garigliano near Minturno. The Arabs built a castle, from which their raids departed. The monasteries of Montecassino and St.Vincenzo were set on fire.

The Arabs at Farfa (890)

In 890 the Arabic troops set the siege to the Abbey of Farfa, in Sabina. The abbot Peter resisted for six months then he had to surrender. The Arabs made of Farfa their base in Sabina.

The Arabs expelled from Latium and from Garigliano (916)

In the X century the Kingdom of Italy was reconstituted. In December of 915 Berengarius was crowned by the pope John X.

In the spring of 916 the struggle against the Arabs had a new impulse. Berengarius put at disposal the Tuscan troops of the marquis Adalbertus and those Umbrian of the marquis Albericus of Spoleto. The Byzantine emperor Constantine sent his own fleet to the orders of the strategist Nicolaus Picingli. Landulf, prince of Capua and Benevento, Gaimar, prince of Salerno, and the dukes of Gaeta and Naples entered the alliance. Pope John X personally put himself to the head of the land troops.

The Longobards of Rieti, led by Agiprandus, advanced in Sabina. The troops of Sutri and Nepi defeated the Arabs near Baccano on the Cassian Way. Pope John X carried off another victory between Tivoli and Vicovaro. The Arabs withdrew on the Garigliano, their fortress.

In June 916 the attack was launched. For three months the Arabs resisted waiting for helps from Sicily. Then they tried to run away on the mountains, but they were reached and defeated by the Italian troops. Italy had rejected the assault of the Arabs. Sicily was still prisoner of the infidels.


Bibliographical references:

Arborio Mella F. A.

Gli arabi e l'Islam


Finley M. I.

Storia della Sicilia antica


Gatto L.

Storia di Roma nel Medioevo



Storia di Roma nel Medioevo


Mack Smith D.

Storia della Sicilia medievale e moderna


Ostrogorsky G.

Storia dell'Impero Bizantino