Eastern Roman (‘Byzantine’) Empire, Transcaucasia and the Umayyad Caliphate

The Arab–Byzantine Wars were a series of wars between the mostly Arab Muslims and the Byzantine Empire between the 7th and 11th centuries AD. These started during the initial Muslim conquests under the expansionist Rashidun and Umayyad caliphs in the 7th century and continued by their successors until the mid-11th century.


Arab-Byzantine Peace Treaty

The Byzantine historian Theophanes states that in the years 686-687 between caliph ‘Abd al-Malik (685-705) and emperor Justinian II (685-695, 705-711) was concluded the peace treaty, according to which the Byzantine Emperor agreed to withdraw Mardaites (Djarājima, in Arabic – inhabitants of the Arabo-Byzantine border country. They played an important part during the early days of Islam in the wars between Arabs and Byzantines. To put an end to the attacks of these adventurers the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik was compelled to sign a treaty with them, guaranteeing a weekly payment of 1,000 dinars) and in for this consideration caliph ‘Abd al-Malik had to take upon himself obligation to pay to the Byzantines daily (The Arab chronicler al-Tabari reports much more credibly that a payment was to be made “every essembly day,” i. e., Friday) one thousand gold pieces, one horse and one slave. But at the same time, the caliph had to surrender to the emperor half the tribute from Cyprus, Iberia (Kartli) and Armenia. There does not seem to be any clear indication of how long this arrangement remained in force in Armenia and Iberia, but in Cyprus the condominium provision remained in effect for some two hundred and sixty years.

According to the evidence of Arab sources, the treaty was concluded in the year 688-89 or 689-90, and according to the Syrian sources in the year 685-86.

Arab-Byzantine Peace Agreements

According to Theophanes, Caliphate and Byzantium had to divide the tribute, collected from Armenia and Kartli equally. The Arab sources say nothing about division of the tribute. There also exists an eleventh-century Syrian chronicle, written by an individual known as Michael the Syrian who probably had access to sources unavailable to the Byzantine chroniclers. In his words, according the conditions of the Treaty, Armenia and the neighbour countries: Kartli (Djurzan), Arzan and the North part of Media, i.e. Atropaten Greek Atropaten, Armenian Atrapatakan, Adharbaydjan – one of the provinces of Media), stayed in the possession of Byzantines.

For establishing differences between Greek and Syrian sources, is important a note of Ghewond, preceding these events: during disturbances in Caliphate “after 30 years of obedience the Armenians, Georgians and Albanians ceased the payment of tribute. Their revolt continued for three years. On the forth year a people from the North, the Khazars conquered Armenia. Gregory, Prince of Armenia and many Georgian and Albanian nakharar-s and Princes were slain in battle. They themselves ravaged the country of Armenia, conquered many districts and settlements, took spoils and went to their country

As notes Ghewond, this happened in the second year of ‘Abd al-Malik’s rule. Georgian scholar Acad. S. Djanashia notes that this fact should happen in the years 685-686, 30 years after the establishment of the Arab rule (655) in Kartli. This date appears in Georgian historiography and thus, the above-mentioned Khazar invasion dates to 689.

Most of the researchers of the history of Armenia name the date of the revolt 680-682 years. They mainly rely on the Khazar invasion, the death of Gregory Mamikonian and, of course, 30 years from the establishment of Arab domination in Armenia.

In consequence of comparison of the sources it turns out that this uprising of the Transcaucasian peoples would take place in 681-682, in any case, before 685.

We are not aware about the reaction from the part of the Caliphate. We can suppose that the revolt against Arabs would be successful, as the Arabs had not enough time to pay attention to Transcaucasia. But the Khazar invasion changed the situation considerably. In this battle they killed Gregory Mamikonian and the Princes of Georgia and Albania, but Levond does not mention them.

The second part of the 7th century was such an epoch in Transcaucasia, when nobody could keep the achieved success for a long time. The Khazars also soon left for their country.

Before the expedition of Marwan ibn Muhammad (called Murvan Kru, “Marwan the Deaf,” in Georgian sources) the relations between the Arabs and the Georgians were defined by the treaty, issued by Habib ibn Maslama. The Arabs obliged subdued side to pay the djizya, or poll-tax of one dinar per household. At the same time, according to the treaty, the Georgians and the Arabs are forbidden to join or divide families to avoid a reduction or increase of the djizya.

Byzantium immediately seized the opportunity of the situation in Transcaucasia. We suppose that the campaigns of Byzantines against Transcaucasia were a kind of response to the above mentioned uprising, and as evenly notes M. Brosset, Justinian II wished to regain his authority in Oriental countries and sent Leontius to Armenia. After this ‘Abd al-Malik concluded a peace treaty with Byzantium.

According to the note of Ghewond, it becomes clear that after the uprising in Transcaucasia the Armenians, Georgians and Albanians did not pay the tribute any more. Thus, the story told by Theophanes, who says that the Arabs and Byzantines should divide the tribute from Kartli and Armenia in equal parts, is doubtful. This kind of peace treaty shows that the rule of Arabs in these countries was restored.

If we believe to the data of the Armenian sources, until 686-693 Byzantium is the ruler of Armenia in fact. Hence, Stratos doubts that the Byzantines divided the tribute with Muslims, as Theophane says.

In opinion of R-J. Lilie, it is doubtful that the Caliph could conclude this kind of treaty. ‘Abd al-Malik was not able to fulfil the condition of a peace treaty, as the East provinces of the Caliphate were under the rule of Ibn al-Zubayr.

It also would be taken into account that in this period the main goal of ‘Abd al-Malik was temporary regulation of the relations with Byzantium so that he could have the possibility of struggle inside the Caliphate.

The peace treaty as it is known was concluded for a period of ten years. According to one of the Syriac Chronicles, a treaty was concluded for periods of three years. According to Theophanes, in 690-691 the Byzantine Emperor broke the peace treaty. He conquered many Slavic tribes and relying on them he tried to break the Arabian army. The battle took place in 692-693 near Sebastopolis. Neboulos, the commander of a force of 30,000 men that had been recruited from the Slavs settled in Asia Minor, was bribed by the Arabs and together with 20,000 of his men came over to the Arab side, and the Byzantines consequently suffered a grave defeat. The situation in Transcaucasia was changed accordingly.

In 693 caliph ‘Abd al-Malik nominated his brother Muhammad ibn Marwan the governor of Arminiya, al-Djazira and Azerbaidjan. In the same year, as say the Byzantine sources, Sumbat Bagratuni, an Armenian patrician, after the defeat of the Byzantines led a revolt against Byzantine authority in that area, handed Armenia to the Arabians and surrendered to them himself. In 685 some Sergius (or Giorgi), son of Barnuk, patrician of Lazika (Egrisi) rebelled against the Byzantines and handed his country to the Arabs. As to Albania, after the regulation of relations with Khazars Varaz Trdat I decided not to pay the tribute to the Byzantines. For that purpose in 699 he left for Constantinople for negotiations but Justinian II put him in prison because he got closer to the Caliphate and broke off any relations with Byzantium. In 704 Varaz Trdat I returned to his country and after that he paid tribute only to Arabs.

An analysis of various sources permits the following conclusions:

1) The peace treaty between the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik and the emperor Justinian II was concluded in 688-689.

2) In view of this, the mentioned campaigns of the Byzantines to Transcaucasia in 686, 688, and 689 must have taken place not after the conclusion of the peace treaty but before it, as Teophanes mentions.

3) The uprising of the Transcaucasian peoples, about which Ghewond informs us, took place in 681-682.

4) Under the terms of the treaty, Kartli, Armenia and supposedly Albania too, remained under the domination of the Byzantines.

(Source: “Arab-Byzantine Relations under the Umayyad Caliphate and South Caucasus”, by Nani Gelovani)


Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Anastasius Philoponus

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