Battle of Gulf of Corinth

The battle of the Gulf of Corinth was a part of the series of naval conflicts between the Cretan Saracens and the Byzantine Empire. The battle took place in 873 between a major Byzantine fleet and the raiding fleet of Cretan Saracens under a Greek renegade commander, Photios.

The Byzantine fleet, under the command of Byzantine admiral, Niketas Ooryphas was able to taken Photios’ fleet by surprise and destroyed the Saracen fleet, killing most of the raiders and capturing others.

Battle of the Gulf of Corinth Background

The Cretan Saracens in the second half of the 9th century had a strong fleet which they began to use in raiding Byzantine territories. The first of such major raids was launched around 872 under the command of Photios.

Byzantine Empire was able to dispel these raids by defeating Photios in a major battle the same year. By 873, Photios and his Saracen fleet had renewed their raids on Byzantine territories in the Peloponnese. It was to counter this that Ooryphas led another major fleet which met the Saracen fleet in the Gulf of Corinth.

Battle Preparations

The Cretan Saracens launched their raids on the shores of Peloponnese in 873, not expecting a Byzantine fleet to meet them in a naval battle. The Byzantine fleet sailed under Ooryphas to northeastern Peloponnese, reaching the harbor within a few days.

By this time, the Saracen fleet had shifted its raiding activities to Pylos and the Gulf of Corinth, aiming to raid the western territories and any ships sailing in the region.

According to historical accounts, Ooryphas manages a near-impossible feat at the occasion. Rather than sailing around the Peloponnese which would have taken many days, Ooryphas had himself hauled over the Isthmus of Corinth.

This allowed him to have his fleet transported into the Corinthian Gulf within no time, letting him take the Saracen fleet by surprise. This account of Ooryphas, overland transfer of ships from Peloponnesian waters to the Gulf of Corinth within a brief time has been questioned by recent historians.

The Fighting

The Byzantine fleet took the Saracen fleet completely by surprise who were not expecting to confront the Byzantine naval might anytime soon. The ensuing battle was brief and quick in which the Byzantine fleet was able to destroy most of the Saracen ships and killed most of the Saracens on board. Some of the Saracens were taken captive by Ooryphas, especially the Christian renegades who were helping the Saracens.

Historical Controversy

Modern historians have questioned the legendary overland hauling of ships ordered by Ooryphas. Such a feat had been accomplished in classical antiquity by Philip V of Macedon. And it is probable that Byzantine historians attempted to embellish the victory of Ooryphas by trying to equate it to Philip’s extraordinary feat.

The major contention to Ooryphas’ legendary overland transport of ships is that it would have been a very difficult and cumbersome feat, and to accomplish it in as short a time as is reported by Byzantine historians makes it even more improbable.

Learn More about the Battle of the Gulf of Corinth at Wikipedia

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