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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

The islands became alternately Saracen and Christian


As

it ebbed, the new cities of Genoa, Pisa, and Venice began to capture the trade and hold the control of the sea that once had been Saracen, until the Christian control was so well established as to make possible the Crusades. Later, as we shall see, a second invasion of Mohammedans, the Turks, ably assisted by the descendants of the Arabs who conquered Spain, once more threatened to control the Mediterranean for the cause of Islam. But the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, which fell into the hands of the Arabs as soon as they took to the water, remained in Arab hands down to the times of the Portuguese. In those waters, because they were cut off from the Mediterranean, the Saracen had no competitor. As early as the eighth century Ceylon was an Arab trading base, and when the Portuguese explorers arrived at the end of the 15th century they found the Arabs still dominating the water routes of India and Asia, holding as they had held for seven centuries a monopoly of the commerce of the east.

Of the Mediterranean during the struggle between Christian and Saracen a recent English writer makes the following suggestive comment:

"The function of the Mediterranean has thus undergone a change. In early times it had been a barrier; later, under the Phoenicians, it became a highway, and to the Greeks a defense. We find that the Romans made it a basis for sea power and subdued all the lands on its margin. With the weakening

of Rome came a weakening of sea power. The Barbary states and Spain became Saracen only because the naval power of the eastern empire was not strong enough to hold the whole sea, but neither was the Saracen able to gain supreme control. Thus the conditions were the same as in the earlier days of the conflict between Rome and Carthage: the Mediterranean became a moat separating the rivals, though first one and then the other had somewhat more control. The islands became alternately Saracen and Christian. Crete and Sicily were held for centuries before they were regained by a Christian power."[1]

[Footnote 1: GEOGRAPHY AND WORLD POWER, Fairgrieve, p. 125.]

The victory of 718 saved Constantinople from any further peril from the Arabs, but it was again in grave peril, two centuries later, when a sudden invasion of Russians in great force threatened to accomplish at a stroke what the Saracens had failed to do in three great expeditions. The King of Kiev, one of the race of Vikings that had fought their way into southern Russia, collected a huge number of ships, variously estimated from one to ten thousand, and suddenly appeared in the Bosphorus. Probably there were not more than 1500 of these vessels all told and they must have been small compared with the Christian dromons; nevertheless they presented an appalling danger at that moment. The Christian fleet was watching Crete, the army was in the east winning back territory from the Arabs, and Constantinople lay almost defenseless. The great walls could be depended an to hold off a barbarian army, but a fleet was needed to hold the waterways; otherwise the city was doomed.

In the Horn lay a few antiquated dromons and a few others still on the stocks. To Theophanes the Patrician was given this nucleus of a squadron with which to beat back the Russians. Desperate and even hopeless as the situation appeared, he went to work with the greatest energy, patching up the old ships, and hurrying the completion of the new. Meanwhile the invaders sent raiding parties ashore that harried the unprotected country districts with every refinement of cruelty. In order to make each ship count as much as possible as an offensive unit, Theaphanes made an innovation by fitting out Greek fire tubes on the broadsides as well as in the bows. This may be noted as the first appearance of the broadside armament idea, which had to wait six hundred years more before it became finally established.


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