Battle of the Masts

Battle of the Masts

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of the Masts
partof=the Byzantine-Arab Wars

place=Lycian coast, Mediterranean Sea
result=Muslim victory
combatant1=Muslim Arabs
(Rashidun Caliphate)
combatant2=Byzantine Empire
commander1=Abdullah bin Sa'ad bin Abi'l Sarh
commander2=Constans II

The Battle of the Masts (Arabic: معركة ذات الصواري, romanized "Dhat Al-Sawari") or Battle of Phoenix was a crucial naval battle fought in 655 between the Muslim Arabs, led by Abdullah bin Sa'ad bin Abi'l Sarh and the Byzantine fleet under the personal command of Emperor Constans II.


In the 650s, Arab Caliphate finished off the Sassanid Empire and continued its successful expansion to Eastern Roman Empire's territories. In 645, Abdullah ibn Saad was made the Governor of Egypt by his foster brother Rashidun Caliph Uthman, replacing the semi-independent Amr ibn al-Aas. Uthman permitted Muawiyah to raid the island of Cyprus in 649 and the success of that campaign set the stage for the undertaking of naval activities by the Government of Egypt as well. Abdullah ibn Saad built a strong navy and proved to be a great naval commander. Under him the Muslim navy won a number of naval victories including the repulsing of a Byzantine counter-attack to Alexandria in 646. [Carl F. Petry (ed.), "The Cambridge History of Egypt, Volume One, Islamic Egypt 640-1517", Cambridge University Press, 1998, 67. ISBN 0-521-47137-0]

In 655, Muawiyah undertook an expedition in Cappadocia while his fleet, under the command of Abdullah ibn Saad, advanced along the southern coast of Anatolia. It seems that Emperor Constans considered the naval part of the invasion the more dangerous, for he embarked against it with a large fleet.

The Battle

The two forces met off the coast of Mount Phoenix in Lycia or Caria [Probably Mount Olympos south of Antalya, see "Olympus Phoinikous Mons" in "Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World", map 65, D4.] . According to the 9th century chronicler Theophanes the Confessor, as the Emperor was preparing for battle, on the previous night he dreamed that he was in Thessalonica; awaking he related the dream to an interpreter of dreams who said: "Emperor, would that you had not slept nor seen that dream for your presence in Thessalonica" - according to the interpreter, victory inclined to the Emperor's foes.Theophanes the Confessor, "Chronographia", in J.P. Migne, "Patrologia Graeca", vol.108, col.705]

The battle was victorious for the Arabs, although losses were heavy for both sides, and Constans barely escaped to Constantinople.Warren Treadgold, "A history of the Byzantine State and Society", Stanford University Press 1997, 314. ISBN 0-8047-2630-2] . According to Theophanes, he managed to make his escape by exchanging uniforms with one of his officers.Theophanes the Confessor, "Chronographia", in J.P. Migne, "Patrologia Graeca", vol.108, col.705]


Although the Arab fleet retreated after its victory,Warren Treadgold, "A history of the Byzantine State and Society", Stanford University Press 1997, 314. ISBN 0-8047-2630-2] the Battle of the Masts was a significant milestone in the history of the Mediterranean, Islam and the Byzantine Empire, as it established the superiority of the Muslims at sea as well as on land. For the next four centuries, the Mediterranean would be a battleground between Byzantines and Muslims. In the aftermath of this disaster, however, the Byzantines would be granted a respite due to the outbreak of a civil war among the Muslims. This gave Constans the time to reorganize the Byzantine defences, especially in the Western Mediterranean and the Exarchate of Africa.


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