Mardaites in Asia Minor

1. Historical Background

The Mardaïtes first appear in the 7th century, and theories of their origin are divided.1 According to the prevalent view, they are identified with the Djarādjima, who inhabited Mount Amanus or Black Mountain (Arabic: Lukkām) of Syria and the marshy region to the north of Antioch. Their name (plural of Djurdjumānī) derived from either the name of the province of Gurgum, in the region of Germanicia, or from a small town between Aleppo (Halep) and Alexandretta called Djurdjūma, meaning the bastion of the Djarādjima, which the Arabs destroyed in 708, when they suppressed the revolt instigated and supported by the Byzantines.

The Djarādjima were Christians and the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch, but they probably followed the doctrine of monophysitism or monotheletism.2 According to Arabic sources, after the Muslims conquered the region of Antioch in 638, the Arabs subdued the Djarādjima, who were then assigned to guard the mountain passes of Amanus and granted exemption from taxation in exchange.

In the mid-660s, the Arabs brought new settlers to the area, because they suspected that the Christian Djarādjima served Byzantine interests. This caused the reaction of the Djarādjima and led to military confrontations, in which Caliph Muwa‘iyah ibn Abi Sufyan, former commander of Syria, won. The Djarādjima replied by invading the cities of Syria and Palestine under Byzantine commanders. It was probably then that they were given the name «Mardaïtes» by the local people, a name that would follow them in Greek sources. The name possibly derived from the Semite word «maridaye», meaning «guerrilla» or «bandit».3 Their conflicts with the Muslims became more serious in the following years, when the Byzantines decided to use them in diversion against the Arabs.

2. The Activitiy of the Mardaïtes in the Middle East

In 671, the Arabs captured Kyzikos, while in the following years, starting from 673, they blockaded the harbours of Constantinople. Thanks to his powerful fleet and the Greek fire, Emperor Constantine IV (668-685) managed to repel the attacks of the Arabian navy. At the same time, the Byzantines took advantage of the difficulties the Arabs were facing and created a diversion in the Middle East. The Mardaïtes, led by Byzantine officers, occupied the Amanus Mountains as far as the outskirts of Jerusalem (possibly in 677). That became their basis for the invasions against Syria and Lebanon, while they were occasionaly joined by slaves and local Christians. Muwa‘iyah was unable to defend his territory effectively, therofore he sent deputies to sign a peace treaty with Emperor Constantine in 678. According to the terms of the treaty, the Byzantines should cease all Mardaïte attacks in Syria and Lebanon.

The Mardaïte revolt ended ten years later. Although he had renewed the peace treaty with the Arabs in 685, Justinian II (685-695, 705-711) wanted to take advantage of the difficulties Caliph Abd al-Malik was facing because of rebellious movements. Therefore, in 688, he urged the Mardaïtes to start raiding the Arab land again, and reinforced them with cavalry. Abd al-Malik was made to sign a new peace treaty with onerous terms, while the Byzantines would withdraw the Mardaïtes from Amanus. Justinian accepted the term, for which he was criticised by later historians.4 The Mardaïtes who remained in Syria were defeated by the Arabs, who eliminated the Byzantine reinforcements. The Mardaïtes of Syria fought on the side of the Arabs in Iraq and joined them again in the Arabian raids against Byzantine territory in the 8th century, while evidence of their presence in Amanus existed until the 10th century.

3. The Resettlement of the Mardaïtes in Byzantine Territories

According to the sources, the Mardaïtes that fled to Byzantine lands amounted to 12,000. However, it is not clear whether all of the refugees or only men eligible for enlistment were included. The Mardaïtes settled in southeastern Asia Minor, particularly in the districts of Pamphylia, Lycia and Cilicia.

In the early 8th century, the military forces of the Byzantine provinces where the Mardaïtes had settled formed the theme of Kibyrrhaiotai, which included all the provincial naval forces of the empire. Within this framework, the Mardaïtes were incorporated into the naval forces of the theme as an autonomous formation based on the capital Attaleia, while they continued to live in other regions as well.5 They were under a Byzantine officer with the rank of katepano, who was directly appointed by the emperor and was independent of the strategos of the theme. The time those reforms took place remains uncertain, but they were probably contemporary with the establishment of the theme. The Mardaïtes of Attaleia became very famous for their seamanship, particularly for their mastery of fast vessels used for scouting missions, as well as for their hatred towards the Arabs of Syria.

Later on (in the 9th century), a part of the Mardaïtes moved to the themes of the Peloponnese, Nicopolis (including the lands of Epiros and Etoloakarnania) and Kephalenia; in those regions they continued to serve as crew members of thematic fleets.6 Towards the late 9th century, the Mardaïtes of the Peloponnese took part in the campaigns in Sicily, while in 911 and 949 a large number of Mardaïtes from the three themes (more than 5000 in the first case, 3000 in the second) participated in the campaigns against the Arabs of Crete.

The Mardaïtes of Attaleia continued to serving as prominent crew members in the fleet of the theme of Kibyrrhaiotai until the second half of the 10th century, but the decline of the fleet of the Kibyrrhaiotai Theme in the 11th century must have affected them. There is no information about their later history; they must have been gradually absorbed by the local people.

4. Consequences of the Mardaïte Presence in Asia Minor

The Mardaïtes played an important role mainly in the strategy employed by the Byzantines against the Arabs in the 7th century, particularly during the first siege of Constantinople: their raids in Lebanon, combined with the naval defeat of the besiegers, actually compelled the Arabs to raise the siege and sign a peace treaty. The repetition of the terms concerning the withdrawal of the Mardaïtes in the following treaties as well as the Arab insistence in 688 that the Mardaïtes should abandon the Black Μountain reveal the size of the threat the central regions of the caliphate were facing from these allies of the Byzantines.

Although the settlement of the Mardaïtes in Byzantine land weakened the offensive policy of Byzantium in the Middle East, it strengthened the naval forces of the empire in southeastern Asia Minor, since the Mardaïtes soon proved their seamanship and significantly reinforced the fleet of the theme of the Kibyrrhaiotai, mainly in scouting and information gathering. The settlement of part of the Mardaïtes in the western themes had similarly positive results for the small fleets of those themes, which were greatly benefited from the seamanship of this people of Syria, particularly in a period when Byzantium was facing the additional threat of the Arabian fleets of the western Mediterranean.

The settlement of the Mardaïtes in Asia Minor and mainland Greece affected the ethnological composition of the population in those regions. According to a document of the Latin sovereigns of Corfu dated 1365, which ratifies an earlier (1246) decree of Michael II, the ruler of Epirus, referring to a «decarhia Mardatorum», while some European travellers of the second half of the 19th century recognised Semite features in several Greek inhabitants of Attaleia, thus implying that they were of Mardaïte origin. According to some scholars, even the Akritic songs preserved the memory of the Mardaïtes, hidden behind the name Maurioritai («Μαυριορίτες»).

1. P.A. Hollingsworth in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium 2 (New York – Oxford 1991), p. 1297, see entry ‘Mardaites’, considers them of Persian or Armenian origin. M. Canard in The Encyclopedia of Islam2 2 (Leiden – London 1965), pp. 456-458, see entry ‘Djaradjima’, tends to believe that the Mardaites were of Persian origin. Χ. Μπαρτικιάν, ‘Η λύση του αινίγματος των Μαρδαϊτών’, in Στράτου, Ν.Α. (ed.), Βυζάντιον. Αφιέρωμα στον Ανδρέα Ν. Στράτο 1 (Athens 1986), pp. 17-39, formulates the theory that the Mardaites of the 7th century were Mards (Iranian bandits) absorbed by the Armenians, who fought as Byzantine mercenaries and had nothing in common with the Djaradjima or the subsequent Mardaites of Asia Minor. Modern Mardaites of Lebanon claim to be descendants of Mardaites, but this view is contestated by Moosa, M., ‘The Relation of the Maronites of Lebanon to the Mardaites and al-Jarajima’, Speculum 44 (1969), pp. 597-608.

2. Χ. Μπαρτικιάν, ‘Η λύση του αινίγματος των Μαρδαϊτών’, in Στράτου, Ν.Α. (ed.), Βυζάντιον. Αφιέρωμα στον Ανδρέα Ν. Στράτο 1 (Athens 1986), pp. 17-39, believes that they were monophysites, while Κ. Άμαντος, ‘Μαρδαΐται’, Ελληνικά 5 (1932), pp. 130-136, believes that they followed the Orthodox doctrine.

3. Evidence of Mardaites' practicing mainly the guerrilla tactics is a quotation from the Byzantine chronicler Theophanes' work, in de Boor, C. (ed.), Theophanis Chronographia (Leipzig 1883), p. 397, 17-19. In his text, he describes the activity of the Byzantine forces, which were arrayed on the mountains of Bithynia in order to harass the Arabian forces that were besieging Constantinople in 717-718; their skirmishing raids were similar to those of the Mardaites («δίκην Μαρδαϊτ?ν κρυπτόμενοι», lurking as Mardaites).

4. Theophanes, in his Chronography, in de Boor, C. (ed.), Theophanis Chronographia (Leipzig 1883), p. 364, 3-5, mentions that with this movement Justinian tore down a «bronze» wall and amputated the Byzantine power: «τούτ ττειγένετο λιμὸςν Συρί· καὶ πολλοὶ εἰσῆλθον εἰςωμανίαν. καὶλθὼν ὁ βασιλεὺς εἰςρμενίανκεῖδέξατο τοὺςν τ Λιβάν Μαρδαΐτας, χάλκεον τεῖχος διαλύσας». See also as above, p. 363, 14-20: ‘καὶ πέμψας ὁ βασιλεὺς προσελάβετο τοὺς Μαρδαΐτας χιλιάδας ιβ΄, τὴνωμαϊκὴν δυναστείανκρωτηριάσας. πᾶσαι γὰρ αἱ νῦν οἰκούμεναι παρὰ τῶνράβων εἰς τὰκρα πόλειςπὸ Μοψουεστίας καὶως τετάρτηςρμενίαςνίσχυροι καὶοίκητοιτύγχανον διὰ τὴνφοδον τῶν Μαρδαϊτῶν· ὧν παρασταλλέντων, πάνδεινα κακὰ πέπονθεν ἡωμανίαπὸ τῶνράβων μέχρι τοῦ νῦν».

5. The view that there were Mardaites settled in Antioch of Pisidia and the island of Karpathos as well is based on the fact that, in the 10th century, galeai of the theme of Kibyrrhaiotai were stationed in those regions, as well as on the assumption that this particular type of ship was used exclusively by the Mardaites; see Makrypoulias, Ch.G., ‘The Navy in the Works of Constantine Porphyrogenitus’, Graeco-Arabica 6 (1995), pp. 152-171.

6. Unlike Ahrweiler-Γλύκατζη, Ε., Byzance et la mer (Paris 1966), pp. 399-400, Άμαντος, Κ., ‘Μαρδαΐται’, Ελληνικά 5 (1932), pp. 130-136, believes that the Mardaïtes of the western themes had nothing in common with the Mardaïtes of Attaleia, but took that name because they were seamen too.