An Eyewitness Account of a Pirate Attack

In 904 AD Leo of Tripoli, a Muslim convert, sacked and pillaged Thessaloniki, a city in northern Greece. A force of more than ten thousand Cretan Arabs, Syrians, and North Africans sieged, then captured Thessaloniki. The city was plundered and its residents were slaughtered or enslaved.

In Holy Warriors: Islam and the Demise of Classical Civilization, author John J. O’Neill provides an eyewitness account of the city’s fall. John Cameniates, his father, and brother were taken prisoner on the city’s ramparts while trying to escape. Their lives were spared because they promised their captors a ransom. Cameniates described his trek through the city during the sack as follows:

“The Thessalonians tried to escape through the streets, pursued by the Saracens, who were unleashed like wild beasts. In their panic, men. women, the elderly, and children, fell into each other’s arms to give each other one last kiss. The enemy hit with no mercy. Parents were killed while trying to defend their children. No one was spared: women, children, the elderly, all were immediately pierced by the sword. The poor wretches ran through the town, or tried to hide inside the caves; some of them, believing they could find refuge inside a church, would seek shelter inside, while others tried to scale the walls of the ramparts, from where they jumped into the void and crashed to the ground. Nuns, petrified with fear, with their hair disheveled, tried to escape, and ended up by the thousands in the hands of the barbarians, who killed the older ones, and sent the younger and more attractive ones into captivity and dishonor… The Saracens also massacred the unfortunate people who had sought refuge inside churches.”

About 22,000 inhabitants were captured and sold as slaves. In 924 AD Leo’s fleet was defeated by the Byzantine navy.

Tomorrow, another raid closer to home.  Rita Bay


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2 responses to “An Eyewitness Account of a Pirate Attack

  1. It’s such a fascinating series of posts, Rita – looking forward to getting around to reading your book eventually!

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