Saracens Complete Conquest of Sicily

By 877 all the major cities of Sicily had fallen to the broad pincer attack of Saracen forces that began in 827 with invasion of the southern coast of the island by Saracens from Africa and was followed in 831 by invasion of the northeast by Saracens from the Iberian peninsula.

[Location map to be added here]Yet resistance persisted from several enclaves on the east coast, such as Taormina and Rametta. Final victory in Sicily eluded the Saracens as their rulers lapsed into a period of civil war, Syracuse erupted in recurring revolts, and the Saracens were occupied with military adventures against the forces of the Byzantine [Eastern Roman] Empire on the Italian mainland. Finally the Saracen conquest was completed with the fall of Taormina in 963 and Rametta in 965.

Victory did not bring peaceful possession. In 1038 the Byzantine Empire launched a counterthrust under the leadership of Maniaces, its chief general of the time. Assisted by discord among the Saracens and strengthened by wide support among Sicilians, the Byzantine forces first captured Messina, then Syracuse. In a four-year campaign Maniaces swept across the island to threaten Palermo [Panormus] itself.

Maniaces' greatest enemy, however, was not in Sicily but in his own capital of Constantinople. Intrigue at the Byzantine court led to recall of Maniaces in 1042, to be replaced by the brother-in-law of the Byzantine emperor. The tide of war immediately turned, and the Byzantine army was pushed back across the island. Only Messina eluded the Saracen riposte.


2000 C. I. Gable