Battle of the Straits

The Battle of the Straits took place between the naval fleet of the Byzantine Empire and that of the Fatimid Caliphate. It took place in 965 at a time when Sicily was effectively under the control of the Fatimid Caliphate and the Byzantine Empire aimed to recover its influence in the waters around southern Italy.

The battle took place in the Straits of Messina and ultimately resulted in a decisive Fatimid victory. The Fatimid victory in the Battle of the Straits cemented Fatimid control over Sicily and diminished whatever little influence the Byzantine Empire had on the island.

Battle of the Straits Background

Muslim regimes in North Africa had control of most of Sicily by the early 10th century. Fatimids rose to power in North Africa in the first decade of the 10th century and from their power base, expanded into Mediterranean waters to annex Sicily as well which was already under Muslim rule.

However, Byzantine Empire still had strongholds in northeastern Sicily and Fatimid governors of Sicily continued to make attempts to end Byzantine influence on the island.To this end, Fatimid officials on Sicily launched a large-scale military campaign in 962, resulting in the loss of notable Byzantine strongholds in Taormina.

The Fatimids then laid siege to Rometta, one of the last strongholds of the Empire on the island. The garrison at Rometta withstood the siege and asked the Byzantine Emperor for help. The Emperor responded by sending a sizable fleet to the aid of the besieged garrison.

Battle of the Straits Fighting

The Byzantine fleet originally landed troops on Sicilian coast in late 964 where they were defeated at the hands of the Fatimid forces. Under the command of admiral Niketas, the Byzantine fleet then attempted to flee the island and reach safety in southern Italy. However, a Fatimid fleet confronted the Byzantine fleet on its way and the ensuing fighting came to be called the Battle of the Straits.

A notable feature of this battle was the tactical use of divers by Fatimid governor. These divers would swim to Byzantine ships and throw pots full of Grecian fire on board, destroying many Byzantine vessels in this way. The Fatimid fleet stood victorious in the battle and the surviving Byzantine soldiers, including Niketas, were taken captive.

Battle of the Straits Aftermath

In the wake of the Byzantine defeat in the Battle of the Straits, the Empire agreed to negotiate for peace terms with the Fatimid Caliphate. According to the peace treaty agreed upon by both sides, the Empire was obligated to leave Sicily to Fatimid control and pay tribute in return for Fatimid cessation of raids into southern Italy.

Niketas and other Byzantine soldiers were ransomed by the Empire. The peace between the two rivals allowed both to concentrate on other enemies while Sicily itself flourished under Muslim rule. Notably, it allowed the Fatimids to divert their military resources to the conquest of Egypt which would eventually became the seat of Fatimid power.

During this period of relative respite from fighting and outside threats, Fatimid governors of Sicily established many mosques and towns.

Learn More about the Battle of the Straits at Wikipedia

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