The fall of Rome to the Barbarians in the late 5th century AD brought an end to Roman authority in the West. However the Eternal City was no longer the capital of the Empire since in 330 AD. Constantin the Great had shifted the centre of power to a city built for the purpose bearing his name: Constantinople. The city, now known as Istanbul, was located in Byzantium, which included all the lands conquered by the Romans in the Eastern Mediterranean. This development ensured the survival of the Roman Empire for another millennium, until the fall of Constantinople in 1453.
The Eastern Roman Empire
In the 6th century AD, Emperor Justinian I successfully reconquered Italy, the Balkans, Southern Spain and most of the North African Coast. The Maltese islands were incorporated into the province of Sicily in 535 AD hence becoming part of the Byzantine empire for nearly 350 years. Despite Justinian's efforts, most of the regained territories had been lost by the end of the 9th century AD. By then Islam had spread through all the Arabic lands in the Middle East and North Africa.
Byzantine Forces in the sixth century and Justinian's conquests in the Western Mediterranean
Islam became a major factor in bringing unity between the Arabs, compelling them to spread the faith to Europe. The Aghlabids were a North African tribe and established Muslim Caliphate. After a period of internal strife, Emir Ziyadat Allah appointed magistrate Asad ibn al-Furat as commander of his military forces and ordered the conquest of Bzyantine province of Sicily in 827 AD. This led to a prolonged struggle for Southern Italy and Sicily which would drag on through the century and beyond, despite the designation of Sicily as a Fatimid Emirate in 831 AD.
Muslim Archers in Sicily The Maximum Extent of Aghlabid Conquests Muslim Warriors
Malta was occupied by Aghlabids led by Halaf al-Hādim in 870 AD. There are some discrepancies about the actual year of the Arabic invasion, and some historians argue that it was more likely 868/9 A.D., while others state this could have been even earlier, given the first landings in Sicily go back as far as 827 AD. The Aghlabid attack on Malta began when the Byzantine city of Melita, ruled by governor Amros (possibly Ambrosios), was besieged for a number of weeks or months. Al-Hādim was killed in the fighting, but the siege was maintained under Sawāda Ibn Muḥammad, sent from Sicily for this purpose. After Melita fell to the invaders, the inhabitants were massacred, the city was destroyed, its churches looted and stripped of their marble which was used to build the Ribat of Sousse. The Arabic term refers to a small frontier fortification, duly intended to house military volunteers.
Left: Tentative reconstruction of Melita's Fortifications during Roman and possibly Byzantine times. Right: The Ribat of Sousse, Tunis incorporated columns and marble plundered from the churches of Melita
Some twenty years after the loss of Malta to the Aghlabids, the Byzantine fleet suffered a heavy defeat off Milazzo (Sicily - 888 AD), leading to an absence of major Byzantine presence in the sea around Italy for the next 100 years. The Byzantines returned despite their losses, with various futile attempts to reconquer the Maltese Islands and retake control of Sicily. The last of these was in 982 A.D., but its failure would allow Arab control to remain until the Norman invasion of the late 11th century. By then, the Fatimid Arabs had long overthrown the Aghlabids establishing their own Caliphate in the territories formerly in the hands of their predecessors and beyond. Hence Malta was ruled by the Fatimids between 909-1090 AD.
This led to a revolution in the agricultural sector in the form of improved irrigation techniques, landscaping, and the establishment of several citrus orchards and plantations. As a result of these initiatives, the Arabs founded a vibrant cotton industry which would endure well beyond their tenure of the Maltese Islands. Qoton, the Maltese term for cotton, is part of that legacy and derives from Arabic qutun / qutn.
Byzantium: the empire of New Rome by Mango, Cyril - Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1980
Early Medieval and Byzantine Civilization: Constantine to Crusades by Dr. Kenneth W. Harl - Tulane.edu History 303
A Concise History of Malta by Cassar, Carmel - Mireva Publications, 2000. ISBN 1870579526 Iz-Zmien nofsani Malti by Charles Dalli - PIN Publications, 2002 - ISBN 99932-41-17-2 Malta 870-1054 : Al-Himyari’s Account and its Linguistic Implications by Joseph M. Brincat - Said International, 1995 Various Wikipedia pages & their respective original sources
Images Malta Postage Stamp from a 1965 Set portraying different phases of Maltese History - AAFM Collection The Eastern Roman Empire - Royal Military Academy (Honga.net) Justinian's Forces & Reconquests in the 6th Century - Weaponews.com / Enciclopedia Brittanica via Wikipedia.org Aghlabid Expansion in the Western Mediterranean - Wraithdt via Deviantart.com / Nanoxyde via Wikipedia.org / Hiboox.com via Weaponsandwarfare.com Roman Mdina Model by Richard Azzopardi & Stephen C. Spiteri on display at the Fortifications Interpretation Centre, Valletta - Continentaleurope via Wikipedia.org Ribat Courtyard at Sousse - Christian Manhart via Ditto
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