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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

After which Muaviah retired with his army to Cyzicus


673 a great Arab armada forced the Hellespont and captured Cyzicus. With this as a base, the fleet landed an army on the northern shore of the Sea of Marmora. By these means Constantinople was invested by land and sea. But the great walls proved impregnable against the attacks of the army, and the Christian fleet, sheltered in the Golden Horn, was able to sally out from time to time and make successful raids on detachments of the Saracen ships. This state of affairs continued for six months, after which Muaviah retired with his army to Cyzicus, leaving a strong naval guard to hold the straits.

The next spring Muaviah again landed his army on the European side and besieged the city for several months. The second year's operations were no more successful than the first, and again the Arab force retired to Cyzicus for the winter.

The Arab commander was determined to stick it out until he had forced the surrender of the city by sheer exhaustion, but his plan had a fatal error. During the winter months the land blockade was abandoned, with the result that supplies for the next year's siege were readily collected for the beleaguered city. Emperor and citizens alike rose to the emergency with a spirit of devotion that burned brighter with every year of the siege. Meanwhile the Christians of the outlying provinces of Syria and Africa were also fighting stubbornly and with considerable success against the enemy. The

year 676 passed without any material change in the situation.


During the siege a Syrian architect named Callinicus is said to have come to Constantinople with a preparation of his own invention, "Greek fire," which he offered the Emperor for use against the Saracen. This, according to one historian, "was a semi-liquid substance, composed of sulphur, pitch, dissolved niter, and petroleum boiled together and mixed with certain less important and more obscure substances.... When ejected it caught the woodwork which it fell and set it so thoroughly on fire that there was no possibility of extinguishing the conflagration. It could only be put out, it is said, by pouring vinegar, wine, or sand upon it."[1]

[Footnote 1: THE ART OF WAR, Oman, p. 546.]

Constantine IV, the Emperor, was quick to see the possibilities of the innovation and equipped his dromons with projecting brass tubes for squirting the substance upon the enemy's ships. These are sometimes referred to as "siphons," but it is not clear just how they were operated. One writer[2] is of the opinion that something of the secret of gunpowder had been obtained from the East and that the substance was actually projected by a charge of gunpowder; in short, that these "siphons" were primitive cannon. In addition to these tubes other means were prepared for throwing the fire. Earthenware jars containing it were to be flung by hand or arbalist, and darts and arrows were wrapped with tow soaked in the substance.

[Footnote 2: THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE, Foord, p. 139.]

The Christian fleet was no match for the Saracen in numbers, but Constantine pinned his faith on the new invention. Accordingly, during the fourth year of the siege, 677, he boldly led his fleet to the attack. We have no details of this battle beyond the fact that the Greek fire struck such terror by its destructive effect that the Saracens were utterly defeated. This unexpected blow completed the growing demoralization of the besiegers. The army returned to the Asiatic shore of the Bosphorus, and the survivors of the fleet turned homewards. Constantine followed up his victory with splendid energy. He landed troops on the Asiatic shore, pursued the retreating Arabs and drove the shattered remnant of their army back into Syria. The fleet was overtaken by a storm in the AEgean and suffered heavily. Before the ships could reassemble, the Christians were upon them and almost nothing was left of the great Saracen armada. Thus the second great assault on Constantinople was shattered by the most staggering disaster that had ever befallen the cause of Islam.

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