Siege and fall of Tyana, 708

1. Historical framework

The early 8th century was marked by continuous conflicts between Byzantines and Arabs along the eastern border of Asia Minor from Cilicia to Armenia. The Arabs were launching raids every year, while the Byzantines were trying to withhold them and retaliate with attacks against Arab lands. This situation, which characterized the last years of the reign of Emperor Tiberios-Apsimaros, continued after 705, when Justinian II reoccupied the imperial throne (685-695, 705-711).

In 706 (in all probability), on its way from Tarsos, an Arab expeditionary corps under Maioumas the Mardaite, as he is referred to in the sources, invaded the Byzantine territories of southeastern Asia Minor. The Arab raiders were intercepted by Byzantine forces under strategos Marianos. The battle must have taken place near the city of Tyana, at a strategic position near the passages leading from Cilicia to Cappadocia. The Arab expeditionary corps was defeated by Marianos and Maioumas was killed.

Such was the fame and the abilities of Maioumas, that the Arabs were very distressed about his loss.1 As a result, Maslamah ibn 'Abd al-Malik, the brother of the Arab Caliph al-Walid, in cooperation with his nephew 'Abbas ibn al-Walid), the caliph’s son, decided to avenge his death and raided against Tyana in 707.

2. The siege and fall of Tyana

In the early summer of 707, an Arab expeditionary corps under Maslamah ibn 'Abd al-Malik and 'Abbas ibn al-Walid invaded Cappadocia through Cilicia and laid siege to Tyana. The Arabs plundered the suburbs and blockaded Tyana. Then, with the help of their war machines, they managed to pull down a part of the fortification enclosure. But despite their partial success, they failed to seize Tyana and had to camp around the city. The winter was difficult for them as they soon got short of supplies.

When Justinian II was informed about these developments, he ordered that an expeditionary corps be formed and sent to Tyana in order to take supplies to the besieged and repel the invaders. The army was reinforced by a number of Asia Minor farmers, although they were unarmed and untrained. The expeditionary corps was headed by two close assistants to the Emperor, Theophylaktos Salibas and Theodore Karteroukas.

The Byzantines arrived in Tyana probably in the early spring of 708, shortly before the Arabs, discouraged by hardships, gave up their attempt to capture the city. A great battle took place in front of the city walls between the besiegers and the Byzantine army. At first, the Byzantines repelled the Arabs, but 'Abbas managed to restrain his forces. The Arabs took advantage of the irregular army of farmers as well as of the dispute between Salibas and Karteroukas and took the offensive. The Byzantines faced a catastrophic defeat and suffered numerous casualties, while lots of them were captured. Moreover, the supplies they were to take to the besieged fell in the hands of the Arabs.

After the Byzantine corps was defeated the inhabitants of Tyana negotiated with the Arabs and agreed to surrender under certain conditions. The Arabs eventually entered the city in March 708.2

3. Consequences

The siege and fall of Tyana had direct consequences for the city and the citizens. After the fall, the Arabs plundered, destroyed and deserted the city taking the citizens as captives. For several years the city of Tyana remained in ruins and was deserted. The Arabs allegedly violated the terms of the treaty with the citizens of Tyana and enslaved a large number of them, while others were displaced.3 Also, lots of Byzantine soldiers and non-combatants were killed or captured during the battle in front of the city walls.

The consequences for the entire Byzantine Empire were equally significant. The Byzantine army was defeated and suffered heavy losses in Tyana and therefore the road was paved for further Arab invasions against the Byzantine territories of Asia Minor. It was a terrible blow to Justinian’s prestige and yet another step towards the final fall of the emperor in 711.

1. Brooks, E.W., “The Arabs in Asia Minor (641-750), from Arabic Sources”, Journal of Hellenic Studies 18 (1898), p. 203.

2. According to Brooks, E.W., “The Arabs in Asia Minor (641-750), from Arabic Sources”, Journal of Hellenic Studies 18 (1898), p. 192, some Arab historians date the fall of Tyana to mid-707. However, they probably confuse the date of fall with the onset of the siege. Xριστοφιλοπούλου, Αικ., “Kρίσιμοι χρόνοι 642-802”, in Iστορία του Eλληνικού Έθνους 8 (Athens 1979), p. 22, dates the fall of Tyana to 709.

3. Στράτος, Α., Tο Bυζάντιον στον Z΄ αιώνα 6 (Athens 1977), pp. 157-158, expresses his doubts about the sources supporting that the Arabs did not observe the terms of the treaty and enslaved the citizens of Tyana.