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Battle of Andrassos

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Battle of Andrassos
Part of the Arab–Byzantine wars
Leo Phokas defeats Hambdan at Adrassos.png
Depiction of the Sayf al-Dawla's flight in the Madrid Skylitzes
Date 8 November 960
Location Andrassos or Adrassos, pass of Kylindros
Result Decisive Byzantine victory
Byzantine Empire Hamdanid Emirate of Aleppo
Commanders and leaders
Leo Phokas the Younger
Constantine Maleinos
Sayf al-Dawla
Casualties and losses
Light Very heavy

The Battle of Andrassos or Adrassos was an engagement fought in autumn 960 in an unidentified mountain pass on the Taurus Mountains, between the Byzantines, led by Leo Phokas the Younger, and the forces of the Hamdanid Emirate of Aleppo under the emir Sayf al-Dawla. Taking advantage of the absence of much of the Byzantine army on campaign against the Emirate of Crete, the Hamdanid prince invaded Asia Minor and raided widely. On his return, however, his army was ambushed by Leo Phokas at the pass of Andrassos. Sayf al-Dawla himself barely escaped, but his army was annihilated. Following a series of Byzantine defeats in the previous years, this battle finally broke the power of the Hamdanid emirate.


In the middle of the 10th century, after a period of expansion on its eastern frontier at the expense of the Muslim border emirates,[1] the Byzantine Empire was confronted by the power of the Hamdanid prince Sayf al-Dawla. In 945, Sayf al-Dawla made Aleppo his capital and soon established his authority across northern Syria, much of the Jazira and the surviving frontier districts (Thughur).[2] Committed to the spirit of jihad, the Hamdanid ruler would emerge as the main enemy of the Byzantines, who derided him as the "impious Hamdan", during the next two decades: by the time of his death in 967, he was said to have fought against them in over forty battles.[3][4]

After his establishment in Aleppo, in winter 945–946, Sayf al-Dawla resumed the old Muslim custom of launching annual raids into Byzantine territory. This first operation was of limited scope and was followed by a prisoner exchange.[5][6] Warfare on Byzantium's eastern frontiers then subsided for a couple of years, and recommenced only in 948. Initially, the Byzantines were led by the Domestic of the Schools (commander-in-chief) Bardas Phokas the Elder, but although he was capable enough as a subordinate commander, his tenure as commander-in-chief proved largely a failure.[7] In 948–950 the Byzantines scored a few successes, sacking the border fortresses of Hadath and Marash. Bardas' second son, Leo, distinguished himself in these years, especially in November 950, when he ambushed Sayf al-Dawla, who had previously defeated his father in battle, in a mountain pass; Sayf al-Dawla lost 8,000 men and barely escaped himself.[6][8][9]

Sayf al-Dawla nevertheless rejected offers of peace from the Byzantines, and continued his raids. More importantly, he set about restoring his frontier fortresses in Cilicia and northern Syria, including at Marash and Hadath. Bardas Phokas repeatedly tried to hinder him, but was defeated each time, even losing his youngest son, Constantine, to Hamdanid captivity. In 955, Bardas' failures led to his replacement by his eldest son, Nikephoros Phokas.[6][10][11] Under the capable leadership of Nikephoros, Leo, and their nephew John Tzimiskes, the tide began to turn against the Hamdanid. In 956, Tzimiskes ambushed Sayf al-Dawla but the Hamdanid army, fighting amidst torrential rain, managed to drive the Byzantines back; at the same time, however, Leo Phokas defeated and captured Abu'l-Asha'ir, a cousin of Sayf al-Dawla, near Duluk. The city of Hadath was sacked again in 957, and Samosata in 958, after which Tzimiskes scored a major victory over Sayf al-Dawla himself. In 959, Leo Phokas raided through Cilicia to Diyar Bakr and back to Syria, leaving a trail of destruction behind him.[6][12][13]

Invasion and ambush

Map of the Arab–Byzantine frontier zone in southeastern Asia Minor, with the major fortresses

In early summer 960, Sayf al-Dawla saw an opportunity to reverse his recent setbacks and re-establish his position: the best troops of the Byzantine army, and the Domestic Nikephoros Phokas in person, departed the eastern front for an expedition against the Emirate of Crete.[14] The task of confronting the Hamdanid emir fell on Leo Phokas, who according to the Byzantine chroniclers had been appointed as Domestic of the West following the accession of Romanos II in November 959 (with Nikephoros being named Domestic of the East) and had just defeated a Magyar raid into Thrace in a daring night attack on their camp.[15][16][17] The 11th-century Christian Arab chronicler Yahya of Antioch, however, reports that Leo had been appointed Domestic of the East, and that he had remained on the eastern front throughout 959–960, leading raids into the Hamdanid domains up until the invasion of Sayf al-Dawla.[17]

At the head of a strong cavalry force—the numbers reported in the sources vary from a 3,000 to as many as 30,000[18][19]—Sayf al-Dawla invaded Byzantine territory, and advanced unopposed as far as the fortress of Charsianon, capital of the theme of the same name. There he and his army sacked the fortress and massacred the garrison; they pillaged and torched the surrounding region and its settlements and took many prisoners.[20] Towards the end of autumn, Sayf al-Dawla finally began the journey home, taking his booty and prisoners. The contemporary Byzantine historian Leo the Deacon gives a vivid portrait of the Hamdanid prince, who, elated at the success of his raid and full of self-confidence, sped back and forth alongside his troops on his horse, a mare "of extraordinary size and speed", throwing his spear in the air and catching it again with remarkable dexterity.[21][22]

In the meantime Leo Phokas, heavily outnumbered by the Arab army, decided to rely once more on his proven ambuscade tactics, and occupied a position in the Arabs' rear, awaiting their return.[23][24] Leo had been joined by the remaining forces of the adjoining provinces, including the theme of Cappadocia under its strategos, Constantine Maleinos, and occupied the narrow pass of Kylindros on the eastern Taurus Mountains. The Byzantine troops occupied the local fort, and hid themselves along the steep sides of the pass.[25] According to the Arab chronicler Abu'l-Fida, this was the same pass that Sayf al-Dawla had crossed to begin his expedition, and many of his commanders advised against using it for the return as well; nevertheless, the Hamdanid prince, confident of his ability and judgment, had grown haughty, and refused to heed any advice, seeking to reap the glory for this expedition alone.[26]

On 8 November 960, the Hamdanid army entered the pass, where, according to Leo the Deacon, they "had to crowd together in the very narrow and rough places, breaking their formations, and had to cross the steep section each one as best he could". Once the entire Arab force, including their train and their captives, was in the pass, with the vanguard already nearing the southern exit, Leo Phokas gave the signal for the attack. With the trumpets blaring, the Byzantine soldiers raised cries and charged the Arab columns, or threw rocks and tree trunks down the slopes on them. The ensuing battle was a complete rout. Many Arabs were killed—Leo the Deacon claims that their bones were still visible at the site years later—and even more were taken captive—John Skylitzes writes that so many prisoners were taken that the cities and farmsteads were filled with slaves. All Christian captives were liberated and the booty recovered, while the treasure and baggage of Sayf al-Dawla himself were captured.[26][27][28] The Hamdanid prince himself barely managed to escape; Theophanes Continuatus claims that he was saved when a Byzantine renegade, named John, gave him his own horse to escape,[29] while Leo the Deacon reports that he threw gold and silver coins behind him to slow his pursuers.[30]

According to the 13th-century Syriac chronicler Bar Hebraeus, of the great expedition he had mustered, Sayf al-Dawla returned to Aleppo with only 300 horsemen.[31][32] Several of the most distinguished Hamdanid leaders fell or became captive at this battle. Some Arab sources mention the capture of Sayf al-Dawla's cousins Abu'l-Asha'ir and Abu Firas al-Hamdani, but most chroniclers and modern scholars place these events on different occasions (in 956 for Abu'l-Asha'ir, and 962 for Abu Firas).[33][34] The qadi of Aleppo, Abu'l-Husayn al-Raqqi, was taken prisoner or fell in battle according to different accounts, while Bar Hebraeus also records the deaths of the commanders "Hamid ibn Namus" and "Musa-Saya Khan".[35][32] Leo Phokas released the Byzantine prisoners after providing them with provisions, and took the booty and Arab prisoners back to Constantinople, where he celebrated a triumph at the Hippodrome.[36][37] Indeed, the battle of Andrassos made a deep impression among contemporaries, provoking outbursts of celebration in the Empire, and grief and lamentation in the Syrian cities; it is mentioned by all historical sources of the time, and upheld in the contemporary Byzantine treatise De velitatione bellica as one of the chief examples of a successful ambush.[38]


Following this disaster, Sayf al-Dawla needed time to recover his strength, but as soon as Nikephoros Phokas returned victorious from Crete in summer 961, he resumed the offensive in the east. The Byzantines captured Anazarbus in Cilicia, and followed a deliberate policy of devastation and massacre to drive the Muslim population away. Sayf al-Dawla's attempts to halt the Byzantine advance in Cilicia failed, and Nikephoros Phokas, with an army reportedly 70,000 strong, took Marash, Sisium, Duluk and Manbij, securing the western passes over the Anti-Taurus Mountains. Sayf al-Dawla sent his army north under Nadja to meet the Byzantines, but Nikephoros ignored them. Instead, the Byzantine general led his troops south and in mid-December, they suddenly appeared before Aleppo. There they defeated an improvised army before the city walls. The Byzantines stormed the city and plundered it, except for the citadel, which continued to hold out. The Byzantines departed in early 963, taking much of the populace with them as captives.[39][40]

In 963, following the death of Emperor Romanos II, Nikephoros turned his attention to the power struggle that saw him ascend the imperial throne.[41] The defeats of the previous years, and particularly the occupation of Aleppo, had dealt a heavy blow on Sayf al-Dawla's power and authority. At the same time, the Hamdanid prince also suffered from physical decline, with the onset of hemiplegia as well as worsening intestinal and urinary disorders, that henceforth confined him to a litter. The disease limited Sayf al-Dawla's ability to intervene personally in the affairs of his state; he soon abandoned Aleppo to the charge of his chamberlain, Qarquya, and spent most of his final years in Mayyafariqin, leaving his senior lieutenants to carry the burden of warfare against the Byzantines and the various rebellions that increasingly occurred in his domains.[40][42]

In autumn 964, Nikephoros, now emperor, campaigned in the East. Mopsuestia was besieged but held out, but Nikephoros returned in the next year, stormed the city and deported its inhabitants. On 16 August 965, Tarsus was surrendered by its inhabitants. Cilicia became a Byzantine province, and Nikephoros re-Christianized it.[39][43] Amidst rebellions and Byzantine raids as far as the Jazira, Sayf al-Dawla died at Aleppo in February 967.[44][45][46] His son and successor, Sa'd al-Dawla, faced constant internal turmoil, and he did not secure control of his own capital until 977. By this time, the rump Emirate of Aleppo was almost powerless and became a bone of contention between the Byzantines and the new power of the Middle East, the Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt.[47]


  1. ^ Treadgold 1997, pp. 479–484.
  2. ^ Bianquis 1997, p. 105.
  3. ^ Bianquis 1997, pp. 106–107.
  4. ^ Schlumberger 1890, pp. 119–121.
  5. ^ Schlumberger 1890, p. 132.
  6. ^ a b c d Bianquis 1997, p. 107.
  7. ^ Whittow 1996, pp. 322–323.
  8. ^ Schlumberger 1890, pp. 132–133.
  9. ^ Treadgold 1997, pp. 487, 489.
  10. ^ Schlumberger 1890, pp. 133–134.
  11. ^ Treadgold 1997, p. 492.
  12. ^ Schlumberger 1890, pp. 134–136.
  13. ^ Treadgold 1997, pp. 492–493.
  14. ^ Schlumberger 1890, p. 136.
  15. ^ Treadgold 1997, pp. 494–495.
  16. ^ Talbot & Sullivan 2005, pp. 70–72.
  17. ^ a b PmbZ, Leon Phokas (#24423).
  18. ^ Schlumberger 1890, p. 139.
  19. ^ Treadgold 1997, p. 495.
  20. ^ Schlumberger 1890, pp. 139–140.
  21. ^ Talbot & Sullivan 2005, p. 74.
  22. ^ Schlumberger 1890, p. 140.
  23. ^ Talbot & Sullivan 2005, pp. 72–74.
  24. ^ Stouraitis 2003, Chapter 2, esp. note 2.
  25. ^ Schlumberger 1890, p. 142.
  26. ^ a b Schlumberger 1890, pp. 142–143.
  27. ^ Talbot & Sullivan 2005, pp. 74–75.
  28. ^ Wortley 2010, p. 241.
  29. ^ PmbZ, Ioannes (#23093).
  30. ^ Talbot & Sullivan 2005, p. 75.
  31. ^ Schlumberger 1890, p. 143.
  32. ^ a b Wallis Budge 1932, p. 184.
  33. ^ Schlumberger 1890, pp. 143–144.
  34. ^ PmbZ, Abū Firās al-Ḥāriṯ b. Saʻīd b. Ḥamdān (#20051); Abū l-‘Ašā’ir (#20040).
  35. ^ Schlumberger 1890, p. 144.
  36. ^ Talbot & Sullivan 2005, pp. 75–76.
  37. ^ Schlumberger 1890, p. 146.
  38. ^ Schlumberger 1890, pp. 144–145.
  39. ^ a b Bianquis 1997, p. 108.
  40. ^ a b Treadgold 1997, pp. 495–497.
  41. ^ Treadgold 1997, pp. 498–499.
  42. ^ Kennedy 2004, p. 279.
  43. ^ Treadgold 1997, pp. 499–501.
  44. ^ Bianquis 1997, pp. 108–109.
  45. ^ Treadgold 1997, pp. 501–502.
  46. ^ Kennedy 2004, pp. 279–280.
  47. ^ Kennedy 2004, pp. 280–282.


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