Within only a few years after the death of Mohammed in 632, the military
consequences of the rise of Islam began to
emerge. Saracens, as the followers of Islam were known in Europe at
that time, seized the Arabian fortress outpost of the Byzantine [Eastern
Roman] Empire in 634. By 643 they had control of Syria and most of
Egypt. By the end of the century Saracen conquests had expanded to
include Persia and Armenia in the east and all of North Africa in
the west. Even Constantinople itself, the capital of the Byzantine
Empire, was besieged by Saracen forces in 673-7 and again in 717-8,
though in each case the attacks were repulsed.
North Africa the Saracens burst into Europe by seizing Iberia [present-day
Spain and Portugal], where Roman rule had been replaced by a succession
of Vandals, Suevi, Alans and finally Visigoths. In 718 Saracen forces
struck across the Pyrenees into present-day France. Finally, their
advance was halted and decisively repelled by Charles Martel and his
Frankish army at the Battle of Poitiers in 732--one of the most influential
battles in European history.
still a possession of the Byzantine Empire but, as a crossroads between
Africa, Asia and Europe, it could not expect to be untouched by the
broad clashes that surrounded it. Saracen attacks on the island began
at least as early as 655, with a strong raid from Damascus in Syria.
Later, Syracuse was sacked by Saracens from Alexandria in Egypt. In
827 Saracens from North Africa began a determined invasion of the
island. Over the next two years, Agrigento and several smaller cities
fell to the invaders, but attacks on Syracuse and Enna failed.
In fact, the
fall of Byzantine Sicily came not from
Asia or Africa, but from Europe itself.