Saif ad-Dawla

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Portrayal of Saif ad-Daula and his court in the Madrid illustrated manuscript of the Skylitzes

Abū l-Hasan ʿAli ibn Abī Alhaijā' ʿAbdallāh Saif ad-Daula at-Taghlibī ( Arabic أبو الحسن علي بن أبي الهيجاء سيف الدولة التغلبي, DMG Abu l-Hasan ʿAli b. Abī l-Haiǧāʾ Saif ad-Daula at-Taġlibī , b . June 22, 916 ; † February 9, 967 Aleppo ) was Emir of Aleppo from 945 to 967. He came from the Hamdanid family and was an important military leader against the Byzantines, known as “Saif ad-Daula” (Sword of the Empire). His court was a center of Arabic culture. After the Byzantine conquest of Aleppo in 962, the city lost its cultural importance.

Political situation

The decline in the power of the Abbasid caliphate began with the "anarchy in Samara" (861). In 863, the Battle of the Lalakaon made it evident that the military might of the Emirate of Malatya had been broken. Byzantine counter-attacks slowly started in the eastern borderland.

early years

Saif ad-Daula, born Ali ibn Abdallah, was the second son of Abdallah Abu'l-Hayja ibn Hamdan (died 929) and grandson of Hamdan ibn Hamdun ibn al-Harith, after whom the Hamdanid dynasty was named. Saif ad-Daula originally served under his older brother Hassan Nasir ad-Daula , who, as ruler of Mosul, early on tried to establish his independence from the weak Abbasid government in Baghdad . Saif al-Daula achieved great successes on the south-eastern border of Byzantium from 938 to 955 as general and from 945 as ruling emir. In 938, an Eastern Roman army under John Kurkuas defeated the enemy and conquered large parts of Iberia (Armenia). In 943 Kurkuas succeeded in throwing back the Hamdanids, the Byzantines successively stormed Martyropolis , Amida , Dara and Nisibis . Marching up before Edessa , the Byzantines forced the Arabs to return the lost " Mandylion " (a legendary image of Christ). In 945 Constantine VII placed the management of imperial politics in the hands of Bardas Phocas the Elder , who in turn entrusted his three sons with the most important military commands. The military reforms in Byzantium from 956 brought a series of setbacks for the power of the Hamdanids. The reinforcements of the Byzantine Eastern Army under Bardas Phocas the Younger , the eldest son of the previous supreme commander in Cilicia , opened up new opportunities. General Nikephoros Phocas , appointed commander-in-chief , initiated the Byzantine counter-offensive in Anatolia . Together with his brother Leon Phokas and the Armenian general Johannes Tzimiskes , all previous successes of Saif ad-Daula in Asia Minor were nullified.

Arab reaction

In the spring of 956, Saif ad-Daula tried to forestall a planned attack by General Tzimiskes on Amida and invaded Byzantine territory. Johannes Tzimiskes attacked Saif ad-Daula's troops from behind at a pass in the Taurus and cut off their retreat. Fighting hard amid heavy rains, the Muslim troops pushed back the Byzantines, who lost 4,000 men. At the same time, however, another army column operating from the south under General Leo Phocas succeeded in penetrating northern Syria and defeating the troops of Abul-Asair, a cousin of Saif ad-Daulas, who had been left to protect Aleppo. In the autumn of 956, Saif ad-Daula marched on Tarsus to cover the Cilician coast from attacks by the Byzantine fleet. In early 957 Hadath was razed to the ground. Saif ad-Daula could not be more vigorous because he uncovered a conspiracy by his own officers to defect to the Byzantines for money. Saif ad-Daula shocked 180 of his leaders and mutilated others as a deterrent. The next spring, troops under John Tzimiskes entered the Jazīra , captured Dara and achieved victory over a Hamdanid army of 10,000 at Amida, led by Saif's favorite general, the Circassian Nadia. Together with Basileios Lekapenos, Johannes Tzimiskes stormed the city of Samosata and inflicted a heavy defeat on the enemy. The Byzantines continued to successfully exploit the Hamdanids' military weakness in the years that followed. The troops of the commander Leo Phocas carried out a campaign towards Kyrrhos in 959 , several border fortresses surrendered to this campaign.

During the absence of most of the Byzantine troops that Nikephorus Phocas used to recapture Crete in 960, Saif ad-Daula attempted to restore his former position of power. At the head of a large army, he again broke into Byzantine territory and sacked the fortress of Charsianon . On his return, however, his army was cut off and severely defeated by the army under Leo Phocas. Saif ad-Daula managed to escape, but his military power was broken. The local governors now began to organize the dispute with the Byzantines on their own, and the authority of the Hamdanids was increasingly called into question.

The absence of Nikephoros Phocas gave Saif ad-Daula valuable time until the summer of 961 to organize preparations for a new campaign. The Byzantines opened their attack in the winter months and took Anazarbos in Cilicia, a policy of driving out the Muslim population and re-Christianization was initiated. After Nikephoros ceased operations during Easter, Saif ad-Daula briefly regained direct control of the province of Cilicia. He began to rebuild the ruined fortifications of Anazarbos, but the endeavor remained incomplete, as Nikephoros' advancing subordinates forced Saif to leave the region again in the autumn.

In return, the Byzantines - allegedly almost 70,000 strong - took the cities of Maraş , Sisium , Duluk and Manbij and thereby gained the security of the western passes over the Taurus Mountains . Saif ad-Daula sent another army under Nadja north as a diversion, but this was ignored by the Byzantines. Instead, the Byzantine general led his troops south and suddenly appeared outside Aleppo in mid-December 962. After defeating an improvised army outside the city walls, the Byzantines stormed and sacked the city, except for the citadel. Around 10,000 residents, mostly young men, went into captivity. On his return, Saif ad-Daula repopulated his half-ruined capital with refugees from Chalkis .

decline of power

After the death of Emperor Romanos II , Nicephorus returned to Constantinople and ascended the imperial throne, while Saif ad-Daula lost authority through the onset of hemiplegia. In the future, the Emir was extremely limited in his physical fitness, a deterioration in the function of his intestines and urinary tract forced him into a sedan chair. In the fall of 964, the Hamdanids attempted to take the forts around Lake Van and reclaim Martyropolis , but were forced to abandon them to quell an uprising in Armenian territory. Saif ad-Daula himself traveled to Armenia to see his former subordinate Nadia, but he was murdered in Martyropolis in the winter of 965. Despite his illness and a famine in his domains, Saif ad-Daula organized three campaigns in Asia Minor in 963. A campaign even reached the Byzantine metropolis of Iconium . Johannes Tzimiskes, who succeeded Nikephoros in supreme command of the eastern troops, reacted in winter with a simultaneous invasion of Cilicia. Tzimiskes annihilated an Arab army at the "Bloodfield" near Adana , but unsuccessfully besieged Mopsuestia afterwards . In the autumn of 964 Mopsuestia was besieged again, but held out again, a famine that plagued the province forced the Byzantines to withdraw once more. Emperor Nikephoros appeared in person at the theater of war and had the city of Mopsuestia stormed, and the inhabitants were deported. The following year, a Byzantine fleet under Niketas Chalkoutzes managed to land on Cyprus and recapture the island, thus securing the flanks to continue the attack in northern Syria. On August 16, 965, Tarsus , whose defenders were guaranteed free departure to Antioch on the Orontes , was recaptured by the Byzantines. Cilicia again became a Byzantine province and was once again Christianized.

Saif's final years were marked by these military defeats, and his physical disability reduced his authority. The revolts of some garrisons weakened the unified defenses of the divided emirate. His illness prevented his personal intervention to achieve the necessary countermeasures; he entrusted the regency to his chamberlain Qarquya and spent most of his last years in Martyropolis. He died in early 967, leaving his 15-year-old son Sa'd al-Daula a very weakened empire in civil war.


  • Leon Diakonos : The Pale Death of the Saracens and Johannes Tzimiskes . The Period from 959 to 976, Byzantine Historians . Vol. 10, translated by Franz Loretto. Verlag Styria, Graz 1961.
  • John Julius Norwich : Byzantium 800-1071 , Volume II., Bechtermünz Verlag, Munich 2000, p. 240 f.