« ForrigeFortsett »
the Egyptian fleet. This generous enterprise was defeated
by the cowardice or treachery of the tioops, who, in the new language of the empire, were styled of the Obsequian The?ne.n They murdered their chief, deserted their standard in the Isle of Rhodes, dispersed themselves over the adjacent continent, and deserved pardon or reward by investing with the purple a simple officer of the revenue. The name of Theodosius might recommend him to the senate and people; but, after some months, he sunk into a cloister, and resigned, to the firmer hand of Leo the Isaurian, the urgent defence of the capital and empire. The most formidable of the Saracens, Moslemah, the brother of the caliph, was advancing at the head of one hundred and twenty thousand Arabs and Persians, the greater part mounted on horses or camels; and the successful sieges of Tyana, Amorium, and Pergamus, were of sufficient duration to exercise their skill and to elevate their hopes. At the well-known passage of Abydus, on the Hellespont, the Mahometan arms were transported, for the first time,* from Asia to Europe. From thence, wheeling round the Thracian cities of the Propontis, Moslemah invested Constantinople on the land side, surrounded his camp with a ditch and rampart, prepared and planted his engines of assault, and declared, by words and actions, a patient resolution of expecting the return of seed-time and harvest, should the obstinacy of the besieged prove equal to his own.f The Greeks would gladly have ransomed their religion and empire, by a fine or assessment of a piece of gold on the head of each inhabitant of the city; but the liberal offer was rejected with disdain, and the presumption of Moslemah was exalted by the speedy approach and invincible
11 In the division of the Themes, or provinces described by Oonstautine Porphyrogenitus, (de Thematibus, 1. i. p. 9, 10,) the Obsequium, a Latin appellation of the army and palace, was the fourth in the public order. Nice was the metropolis, and its jurisdiction extended from the Hellespont over the adjacent parts of Bithynia and Phrygia, (see the two maps prefixed by Delisle to the Imperium Orientale of Banduri.)
* Compare page 274. It is singular that Gibbor should thus contradict friaiself in a few pages. By his own account this was the second time—M.
* The account of tbis siege in the Tarikh Tebry is a very unfavorable •pecimen of Asiatic history, full of absurd fables, and written with totai ignorance of the circumstance? of time and place. Price, vol. i. p 49# —M
force of the natives of Egypt and Syria. They are said tc have amounted to eighteen hundred ships: the number betrays their inconsiderable size; and of the twenty stout anc* capacious vessels, whose magnitude impeded their progress each was manned with no more than one hundred heavyarmed soldiers. This huge armada proceeded on a smooth sea, and with a gentle gale, towards the mouth of the Bos
Ehorus; the surface of the strait was overshadowed, in the mguage of the Greeks, with a moving forest, and the same fatal night had been fixed by the Saracen chief for a general assault by sea and land. To allure the confidence of the enemy, the emperor had thrown aside the chain that usually guarded the entrance of the harbor; but while they hesitated whether they should seize the opportunity, or apprehend the snare, the ministers of destruction were at hand. Hie fireships of the Greeks were launched against them; the Arabs, their arms, and vessels, were involved in the same flames; the disorderly fugitives were dashed against each other or overwhelmed in the waves; and I no longer find a vestige of the fleet, that had threatened to extirpate the Roman name. A still more fatal and irreparable loss was that of the caliph Soliman, who died of an indigestion," in his camp near Kinnisrin or Chalcis in Syria, as he was preparing to lead against Constantinople the remaining forces of the East. The brothei of Moslemah was succeeded by a kinsman and an enemy and the throne of an active and able prince was degraded by the useless and pernicious virtues of a bigot.]- While he started and satisfied the scruples of a blind conscience, the siege was continued through the winter by the neglect, rather
11 The caliph had emptied two baskets of eggs and of figs, which he iwallowed alternately, and the repast was concluded with marrow and sugar. In one of his pilgrimages to Mecca, Soliman ate, at a single meal, seventy pomegranates, a kid, six fowls, and a huge quantity of the grapes of Tayef. If the bill of fare be correct, we must admire the appetite, rather than the luxury, of the sovereign of Asia, (Abulfeda. Annal. Moslem, p. 126.)*
* The Tarikh Tebry ascribes the death of Soliman to a pleurisy. Th« ■ame gross gluttony in which Soliman indulged, though not fatal to the Hfe, interfered with the military duties, of his brother Moslemah. Price
roL i. p. 5it.—M.
t Major Price's estimate of Omar's character is much more favorable Among a race of sanguinary tyrants, Omar was just and humane. Hii ♦Maes as well as his bigotry wore active.—M.
than by the resolution of the caliph Omar." The wintei proved uncommonly rigorous: above a hundred days the ground was covered with deep snow, and the natives of the sultry climes of Egypt and Arabia lay torpid and almost lifeless in their frozen camp. They revived on the return of spring; a second effort had been made in their favor; and their distress was relieved by the arrival of two numerous fleets, laden with corn, and arms, and soldiers; the first from Alexandria, of four hundred transports and galleys; the second of tkree hundred and sixty vessels from the ports of Africa. But the Greek fires were again kindled; and if the destruction was less complete, it was owing to the experience which had taught the Moslems to remain at a safe distance, or to the perfidy of the Egyptian mariners, who deserted with their ships to the emperor of the Christians. The trade and navigation of the capital were restored; and the produce of the fisheries supplied the wants, and even the luxury, of the inhabitants. But the calamities of famine and disease were soon felt by the troops of Moslemah, and as the former was miserably assuaged, so the latter was dreadfully propagated, by the pernicious nutriment which hunger compelled them to extract from the most unclean or unnatural food. The spirit of conquest, and even of enthusiasm, was extinct: the Saracens could no longer struggle, beyond their lines, either single or in small parties, without exposing themselves to the merciless retaliation of the Thracian peasants. An army of Bulgarians was attracted from the Danube by the gifts and promises of Leo; and these savage auxiliaries made some atonement for the evils which they had inflicted on the empire, by tiie defeat and slaughter of twenty-two thousand Asiatics. A report was dexterously scattered, that the Franks, the unknown nations of the Latin world, were arming by sea and land in the defence of the Christian cause, and their formidable aid was expected with far different sensations in the
u See the article of Omar Ben Abdalaziz, in the Bibliotheque Ori entale, (p. 689, 690,) praeferens, says Elmacin, (p. 91,) rehgionem auam rebus suis mundanis. He was so desirous of being with God, that he would not have anointed his ear (his own saying) to obtain u •perfect cure of his last malady. The caliph had only one shirt, ar.d •n an age of luxury, his annual expense was no more than two drachms, (/. bulpharagius, p. 131.) Haud diu gavisus eo principe fuit • tbu It.elemus, (Abulfeda, p. 127.)
camp and city. At length, after a siege of thirteen months,14 the hopeless Moslemah received from the caliph the welcome permission of retreat.* The march of the Arabian cavalry over the Hellespont and through the provinces of Asia, was executed without delay or molestation; but an army of theii brethren had been cut in pieces on the side of Bithynia, and the remains of the fleet were so repeatedly damaged by tempest and fire, that only five galleys entered the port of Alexandria to relate the tale of their various and almost incredible disasters.1*
In the two sieges, the deliverance of Constantinople may bfl chiefly ascribed to the novelty, the terrors, and the real efficacy of the Greek fire.1' The important secret of compounding and directing this artificial flame was imparted by Callinicus, a native of Heliopolis in Syria, who deserted from the service of the caliph to that of the emperor." The skill of a chemist and engineer was equivalent to the succor of fleets and armies; and this discovery or improvement of the military art was fortunately reserved for the distressful period, when the degenerate Romans of the East were incapable of contending with the warlike enthusiasm and youthful vigor of the Saracens.
14 Both Nicephorus and Theophanes agree that the siege of Constantinople was raised the 15th of August, (A. D. 718 ;) but as the former, our best witness, affirms that it continued thirteen months, the latter must be mistaken in supposing that it began on the same day of the preceding year. I do not find that Pagi has remarked this inconsistency.
16 In the second siege of Constantinople, I have followed Nicephorus. (Brev. p. 33—36,) Theophanes, (Chronograph, p. 324—334,) Cedrenus, (Compend. p. 449—452,) Zonaras, (torn. ii. p. 98—102,) Elnacin, (Hist. Saracen, p. 88.) Abulfeda, (Annal. Moslem, p. 126,) and Abulpharagius, (Dynast, p. 130,) the most satisfactory of the Arabs.
16 Our sure and indefatigable guide in the middle ages and Byzantine history. Charles du Frame du Cange, has treated in several places of the Greek fire, and his collections leave few gleanings behind. See particularly Glossar. Med. et Infim. Graecitat. p. 1275, sub voce lisp BaXiaatov vypnv. Glossar. Med. et Infim. Latinitat. Ignis Gicecut. Observations sur Villehardouin, p. 305, 806. Observations sur Joinrille, p. 71, 72.
"Theophanes styles him dp^trwrrwv, (p. 295.) Cedrenus (p. 437) brings this artist from (the ruins of) Heliopolis in Egypt; and cheraletry was indeed the peculiar science of the Egyptians.
• The Tarikh Tebry embellishes the retreat of Moslemah with turn* wtraordinary and incredible circumstances. Price, p. 514.— M
The historian who presumes to analyze this extraordinary composition should suspect his own ignorance and that of his Byzantine guides, so prone to the marvellous, so careless, «ind, in this instance, so jealous of the truth. From their obscure, and perhaps fallacious, hints it should seem that the principal ingredient of the Greek fire was the naphtha,1* or liquid bitumen, a light, tenacious, and inflammable oil," which jpriEgs from the earth, and catches fire as soon as it comes in contact with the air. The naphtha was mingled, I know not by what methods or in what proportions, with sulphur and with the pitch that is extracted from evergreen firs.20 From this mixture, which produced a thick smoke and a loud explosion, proceeded a fierce and obstinate flame, which not only rose in perpendicular ascent, but likewise burnt with equal vehemence in descent or lateral progress; instead of being extinguished, it was nourished and quickened by the
18 The naphtha, the oleum incendiarium of the history of Jerusalem, (Gest. Dei per Francos, p. 1167,) the Oriental fountain of James de Vitry, (1. iii. c. 84,) is introduced on slight evidence and strong probability. Cinanmus (1. vi. p. 165) calls the Greek fire rvp MjjJucnv; and the naphtha is known to abound between the Tigris and the Caspian Sea. According to Pliny, (Hist. Natur. ii. 109,) it was su-bser vient to the revenge of Medea, and in either etymology the eXatot Madias, or MnSeias, (Procop. de Bell. Gothic. 1. iv. a 11,) may fairly lignify this liquid bitumen.*
18 On the different sorts of oils and bitumens, see Dr. Watson's (the present bishop of Llandaff's) Chemical Essays, vol. iii. essay i., a classic book, the best adapted to infuse the taste and knowledge of chemistry. The less perfect ideas of the ancients may be found in Strabo (Geograph. 1. xvi. p. 10*78) and Pliny, (Hist. Natur. ii. 108, 109.) Huic (Naphthce) magna cognatio est ignium, transiliuntque protinus in earn undecunque visam. Of our travellers I am best pleased with Otter, (torn. i. p. 153, 158.)
10 Anna Comnena has partly drawn aside tie curtain. 'ATM rfj$ rei/cris, icai a\\(ov rivtiv Towvtov div&pwv detO&Xiov irvvdyerai &&<pvov omavaTuv. Toiiro ptcTa dciov rpi06/tsvov ijiSdWeTai tii avXiaxovq xaXd/KOV, Kox ifupiaarili *apa Tov Tratfovrns \ii0pip Kill avveytT TTnevfiart, (Alexiad. 1. xiii. p. 383.)
Elsewhere (1. xi. p. 336) she mentions the property of burning vara ri npavts xai iip' Udrepa. Leo, in the xixth chapter of his Tactics, (Opera Meursii, torn. vi. p. 843, edit. Lami, Florent. 1745,) speaks of the new invention of Trip jiera 0p6vTris Kal KOTn/ov. These are genuine and Imperial testimonies.
* It is remarkable that the Syrian historian Michel gives the name of naphtha to the newly-invented Greek fire, which seems to indicate that thh iobstance formed the base of the destructive compound. St Martin '.pro ■ Jfi p. «20.- M.