The Muslims of Medieval Italy

By Alex Metcalfe | Go to book overview

2
The consolidation of Muslim authority
in Sicily

On Sicily, after the capture of Castrogiovanni (modern Enna) in 859, the Aghlabids dominated the central regions of the island, enabling them to push into its south-eastern third or Val di Noto. Spurred by the loss of Castrogiovanni, Byzantine forces arrived from overseas to save the remains of their authority in the east. Their advent coincided with an uprising of towns in the southwest including Agrigento, Caltabellotta and Platani which, until now, had remained largely quiescent after their conquest. If the Byzantines had attempted a combined operation, or had wished to foment revolt across the island, then their hopes were soon wrecked when the revolt was put down, and they were reduced to venting their frustration by exhuming and burning the corpse of the long-serving wālī, al-‘Abbās, who had died near Caltagirone in summer 861. Aghlabid Sicily was not to produce such a long-serving leader again. They were, however, not short of capable governors, such as Khafāja ibn Sufyān (r. 862–9) who arrived from Ifrīqiya after two brief interregnum periods in which local candidates from al- Abbās’s family aspired to the office of wālī. Under Khafāja, annual expeditions against the Christians focused on towns in the south-east. A number of these, Ragusa in 849 for example, had already capitulated at least once before, but some appeared to have slipped out of their tribute-paying obligations, thus justifying their renewed subjugation. Noto, for instance, was reportedly taken twice in successive years between 864 and 866. When sieges failed to break the major towns such as Catania, Taormina and Syracuse, which were repeatedly targeted, it was the countryside and villages around them which were again pillaged. And when a Byzantine naval expedition arrived to assist the relief of Syracuse, under attack in 868 for the third time in as many years and its outskirts sacked, the Greeks were unable to translate moral and physical support into anything resembling an incisive counterattack.

On his return from a summer raid against Syracuse in 869, Khafāja was killed by a soldier, said in the Arabic sources to have had a Berber name. The reasons for his murder were not reported, but it is tempting to suggest a connection with tensions over the division of spoils between different sections within the army. The killer found refuge in Syracuse and Khafāja’s body was translated to Palermo

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