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Battle at Bathys Ryax, 872/8

Author(s) : Kiapidou Irini-Sofia (1/17/2003)
Translation : Velentzas Georgios

For citation: Kiapidou Irini-Sofia, "Battle at Bathys Ryax, 872/8",
Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World, Asia Minor
URL: <http://www.ehw.gr/l.aspx?id=7934>

Μάχη στον Βαθύ Ρύακα, 872/8 (11/15/2007 v.1) Battle at Bathys Ryax, 872/8 (2/15/2008 v.1) 

1. Historical Framework

From the mid-9th century onwards the Arab-Byzantine conflicts in Asia Minor were for the first time connected with the firm religious policy of the Byzantine Empire against heresies. More specifically, as part of the strictly Orthodox policy adopted after the final restoration of icons in March 843, the persecutions against the Paulicians became more systematic and the latter had to move to the east of the Arab-Byzantine border, in the region of the Upper Euphrates, where they sought shelter in Arab lands. The Arab emir of Melitene, Amr al-Aqta῾, finally ceded them the region to the north of Melitene, where they settled as an autonomous political and religious community protected by the Arabs; in return, they offered the Arabs military service. Thus, the Paulicians participated in the Arab raids against the Byzantine Empire, which gradually strengthened the military, economic and political power of their state and made it an important enemy of Byzantium.

The particularly intense military activity of the Paulicians led by Chrysocheir (863-872 or 878)1 made Emperor Basil I turn his whole attention to the eastern border and lead a campaign against the Paulician capital, Tephrike, during which he narrowly escaped being captured (spring 871). Encouraged by this failure of the Byzantine emperor, Chrysocheir campaigned against the Byzantine lands in Asia Minor the following years, reaching as far as Ankyra2 and the region of Kommata, between Ankyra and Lake Tatta (modern Tuz Golu) in southern Galatia, which he plundered. After taking rich spoils, the Paulicians took their way back, following the route which led from Ankyra to Sebasteia via Tabia.3 Basil I had been informed of the raids and ordered his brother-in-law and domestikos ton scholon, Christopher,4 to pursue Chrysocheir on his way back to the Paulician capital, Tephrike.5 Chrysocheir’s forces had already camped at Agranai (near modern Muşalem Kale) when the Byzantines reached Siboron (modern Karamadara), to the west of Agranai. Christopher split his forces and ordered the strategoi of the themes of Armeniakon and Charsianon to follow the Paulicians as far as Vathys Ryax (modern Kalınırmak pass) in northern Cappadocia, to the west of Sebasteia, and to inform him whether Chrysocheir was sending forces against the two themes.

2. The Battle

Chrysocheir had already camped at Vathys Ryax when the two strategoi arrived at night with their force at the wood that covered the hill of Zogoloenos, above the Paulician camp. Taking advantage of their men’s enthusiasm (the soldiers of the two themes conflicted bitterly over the title of the bravest corps in battle), they attacked before dawn, although they had been ordered to return without fighting. According to the plan of the two strategoi, the two of them along with a special corps of 600 men would attack the Paulician camp, while the rest of the soldiers had been ordered to remain in their place and keep shouting all through the battle so that the enemies would think that the main part of the Byzantine army was moving to reinforce the attacking forces. The plan worked out perfectly. The Paulicians were taken aback by the unexpected Byzantine attack and fled in disorder. The Byzantines chased them for around 50 km to the northeast as far as the hill of Konstantinou Bounos (probably identified with modern Yildiz Dagi), near Sebasteia. Many Paulicians were killed during the pursuit. Chrysocheir tried to escape but was cought up at Konstantinou Bounos by Poullades, a Byzantine soldier who had lived in Tephrike as a captive of Chrysocheir and now sought revenge. Chrysocheir was fatally wounded by Poullades while trying to cross a ditch and, despite the pleads of his loyal servant, Diakonitzis, the overhauling Byzantines beheaded him. His head was sent to Emperor Basil I in Constantinople.

3. Consequences

The defeat of the Paulicians at Vathys Ryax in 872 or, according to others, in 878,6 not only prevented them from realising the target of their campaign – tp strengthen their presence in Asia Minor –, but also had a catastrophic effect, as their military forces suffered serious damage and their leader was fatally wounded. The death of Chrysocheir disorganised the Paulician state and weakened it extremely rapidly, which gave Basil I the opportunity to immediately follow a vigorous offensive policy on the eastern border of the Byzantine Empire. He undertook and led himself a series of successful campaigns against both the Paulicians and their Arab allies.7 The apex of his military venture was the capture and sack of the Paulician capital a few years later, in the spring-summer of 8788 or in the summer of 879.9 After the Byzantines had occupied Tephrike, the Paulician state actually collapsed and the military threat against the Byzantine Empire disappeared. However, the religious community of the Paulicians was not utterly eliminated, as there is evidence that it survived until the 10th and 11th century.

1. Before 869 Chrysocheir had raided Asia Minor, as far as Nicomedia, Nicaea and Ephesus. When Basil I sent a delegation to Tephrike in 869, aiming at a peace treaty, Chrysocheir claimed the entire Asia Minor to be subjected to him.

2. C. Foss, “Late Antique and Byzantine Ankara”, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 31 (1977), p. 80, reports that the Paulicians captured Ankyra. However, this is not confirmed by any source.

3. Hild, F. – Restle, M., Kappadokien (Kappadokia, Charsianon, Sebasteia und Lykandos) (Tabula Imperii Byzantini 2, Wien 1981), p. 81.

4. According to Treadgold, W.T., A History of the Byzantine State and Society (Stanford 1997), p. 457, the emperor sent Christopher to confront the Paulicians because he did not want to run the risk of a second unsuccessful campaign against them.

5. From this point on, the account of the events by the Byzantine sources is full of contradictions; here we are following the reconstruction proposed by Lemerle, P., “L’histoire des Pauliciens d’Asie Mineure d’après les sources greques”, Travaux et Mémoires 5 (1973), p.103. F. Hild and M. Restle, Kappadokien (Kappadokia, Charsianon, Sebasteia und Lykandos) (Tabula Imperii Byzantini 2, Wien 1981), p. 81, K. Belke, and M. Restle, Galatien und Lykaonien (Tabula Imperii Byzantini 4, Wien 1984), p. 68, and W.T. Treadgold, A History of the Byzantine State and Society (Stanford 1997), p. 457, agree with the above reconstruction. On the other hand, A.A. Vasiliev, Byzance et les Arabes, 2: La dynastie macédonienne (867-959) (Corpus Bruxellense Historiae Byzantinae 2/2, Bruxelles 1962), p. 34-35, reports that the domestikos ton scholon Christopher, after winning an important victory against the Paulicians, captured and destroyed their capital, Tephrike. The leader of the Paulicians, Chrysocheir, managed to escape, while Chrisopher continued to pursue him until they clashed at Vathys Ryax. This version seems to be adopted by G. Ostrogorsky, Ιστορία του βυζαντινού κράτους 2 (transl. in greek, Athens 1989), p. 113.

6. N.G. Garsoian, The Paulician Heresy. A Study in the Origin and Development of Paulicianism in Armenia and the Eastern Provinces of the Byzantine Empire (The Hague-Paris 1969), p. 39, 128, dates the fall of Tephrike and the death of Chrysocheir at Vathys Ryax to 878/9. See J. F. Haldon, The Byzantine Wars (Stroud 2001), p. 85, where he too dates the campaign of Chrysocheir and his defeat at Vathys Ryax to 878.

7. Already in 873 Basil I had campaigned to the east and captured Sozopetra (Zapetra) and Samosata (Arsamosata), without managing to capture Melitene, though, which was the prime target of his campaign. At the same time he successfully attacked several Paulician strongholds.

8. Τhis chronology was proposed by Lemerle, P., “L’histoire des Pauliciens d’Asie Mineure d'après les sources greques”, Travaux et Mémoires 5 (1973), p. 108, and was followed by lots of contemporary scholars, such as F. Hild and H. Hellenkemper, Kilikien und Isaurien (Tabula Imperii Byzantini 5, Wien 1990), p. 51. K. Belke and M. Restle, Galatien und Lykaonien (Tabula Imperii Byzantini 4, Wien 1984), p. 68, also believe that Tephrike must have fallen to the Byzantines in 878. Earlier scholars, such as A.A. Vasiliev, Byzance et les Arabes, 2: La dynastie macédonienne (867-959) (Corpus Bruxellense Historiae Byzantinae 2/2, Bruxelles 1962), pp. 32-42, date the event to 872.

9. Treadgold, W. T., A History of the Byzantine State and Society (Stanford 1997), p. 458.


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