Forced Movement of the Mardaites, 688

1. Historical context

The forced movement of the Mardaites from the region of Lebanon following the signing of the peace treaty of 688 AD between the emperor Justinian II and the Arab caliph Abd al-Malik (668-705 AD) was an event of great importance regarding the defensive line of Byzantium in the region of the mountain range of Taurus and Armenia. This treaty was the second renewal of the peace treaty of 678 AD, signed between the emperor Constantine IV Pogonatos (668-685 AD) and caliph Mu’awiya (661-680 AD) (the first renewal of the treaty was signed in 685 AD). According to the terms of the treaty of 678 AD, an annual toll of 365.000 golden coins, 365 horses and 365 slaves was to be paid to the Byzantines. These favourable terms were the result of the unsuccessful siege of Constantinople by My’awiya and the successful byzantine diversion in the region of Syria carried out by the Mardaites (677 AD). The available evidence of the presence and action of the Mardaites in the arab-byzantine frontier during the second half of the 7th cent. AD is fragmentary and incomplete, making further research extremely difficult. The main points of interest in the Mardaites concern the ethnographic nature of their origin and their fate following their forced movement from Lebanon, as well as the conditions in the abandoned region of Taurus in the subsequent years.

2. The forced movement of the Mardaites

2.1. The Mardaites

The role played by the Mardaites in the military events of the 7th cent. AD is easier to grasp by taking into account certain information regarding their past prior to the treaty of 688 AD. Their presence was attested to the mountains of Amanus and the mountain range of Taurus. Their Arab name was Djaradjima. The issue of their origin remains unclear. It is possible, however, that they were of Iranian or Armenian descent. With regard to their religious beliefs, the Mardaites were Christian adherents of Monophysitism or Monotheletism. It is possible that they also provided their military services to the Byzantines prior to the Arab expansion. Following the conquest of Syria by the Muslims, a part of the Mardaites moved to the north,1 while another part of their population remained in Arab territory and converted to Islam.2

2.2. The forced movement

The terms of the treaty of 688 AD renewed for a second time the treaty of 678 AD with the addition of two more terms, related to the causes which led the two sides to this renewal. The two extra terms provided the withdrawal of the Mardaites, allies of Byzantium, from the region of Lebanon and the prevention on behalf of the byzantine Emperor of their raids into arab territories; also, that the tax payed by the populations of Cyprus, Armenia and Iberia should be divided in two and payed to both sides.3 The first term was a prerequisite of the second, regarding the regions of Armenia and Iberia at least, due to the fact that the Mardaites were responsible for the defence of the border as far as Armenia IV. The Mardaites were thus the main issue of the treaty of 688 AD for both sides.

3. Consequences

The forced movement of the Mardaites resulted in the alteration of the population of the Byzantine Empire and the readjustment of the military balance in southeastern Asia Minor. It is estimated that the removed Mardaites numbered 30.000. However, the removed population did not come from Byzantine territories only. No less than 12.000 Mardaites came from Arab territories, added to the 18.000 from the byzantine region of Taurus.4 At first, the Mardaites settled in southeastern Asia Minor (Pamphylia, Caria, Lycia), serving as oarsmen in the fleet of the theme of Kibyrrhaiotai. Later, during the 9th and 10th cent. AD, they served as oarsmen in the themes of Peloponnese, Nicopolis and Cephalenia,5 thus reinforcing the fleet of the themes of Byzantium.6 The Mardaites of the European provinces of the Byzantine Empire are mentioned in the sources as Mardaites of the West; however, whether these 9th- and 10th- cent. Mardaites are the same people as the Mardaites of the 7th cent., is an open question.7 The greatest consequence of the forced movement of the Mardaites was their absence from the arab-byzantine frontier, making the defence of Byzantium against the attacks of the caliphate insufficient. The Arabs, at the same time, reinforced their presence in the region. The region of Mopsuestia as far as Armenia IV became an area of conflict between the two empires. At the beginning of the 8th cent. AD, the Djaradjima of the caliphate met the economic oppression as well as persecutions by the authorities of the caliphate, forcing them to scatter in the mountainous regions of Amanus and Taurus.8

4. Critisism on these events

Theophanes the Confessor, a contemporary to these events, criticizes in his work the decision of Justinian II to remove the Mardaites, believing that they were of great importance for the defence of the Empire against the arab threat. Having the advantage of witnessing how this affected the defence of Asia Minor, Theophanes points out characteristically that the borderline Arab cities from Mopsuestia to Armenia IV were once deserted for fear of the Mardaites, while after the latters's forced movement, Byzantium suffered greatly.9

1. Vasiliev, A. A., History of the Byzantine Empire (Madison 1952), p. 215.

2. al-Baladhuri, Kitab Futuh al-Buldan, Hitti, Ph. K. (ed.) The Origin of the Islamic State (Beirut 1966), pp. 246-247.

3. De Boor, C. (ed.), Theophanis Chronographia (Leipzig 1883), p. 363.3-20.

4. Treadgold, W. T., Byzantium and its Army (284-1081) (Stanford 1995), p. 72.

5. Ahrweiler, H., Byzance et la mer. La marine de guerre, la politique et les institutions maritimes de Byzance au VIIe-XVe siecles (Paris 1966), pp. 33, 44, 50, 52, 84-85, 100, 108, 399-400.

6. Treadgold, W. T., Byzantium and its Army (284-1081) (Stanford 1995), p. 26.

7. According to Treadgold, W. T., Byzantium and its Army (284-1081) (Stanford 1995), p. 72, the various sources of the 7th and 8th-9th cent. imply that the Mardaites of subsequent centuries were descendants of those removed from Asia Minor in the 7th cent. His belief is based on the assumption that the early Mardaites must have been granted military lands by the Emperor, which they later left to their descendants, or that their professions and privileges were hereditary.

8. al-Baladhuri, Kitab Futuh al-Buldan, Hitti, Ph. K. (ed.) The Origin of the Islamic State (Beirut 1966), p. 258.

9. De Boor, C. (ed.), Theophanis Chronographia (Leipzig 1883), p. 363.16-20: “πάσαι γαρ αι νυν οικούμεναι παρά των Αράβων εις τα άκρα πόλεια από Μοψουεστίας και έως τετάρτης Αρμενίας ανίσχυροι και αοίκητοι ετύγχανον δια την έφοδον των Μαρδαϊτών· ων παρασταλλέντων, πάνδεινα κακά πέπονθεν η Ρωμανία υπό των Αράβων μέχρι του νυν”.