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F or Departure Day : Green Banners over the Sea of Marmara

After a few sunny but humid days in Istanbul, a thunderstorm woke us up this morning. Black clouds had gathered over the Bosporus, there was lightning and the cracking sound of thunder. At the time of our departure, rain swept horizontally over the deck of Casa dell’ Arte, the ship we sail on. The weather forecast was benign though. Rain shall stop at 1 pm.

Our Departure from Istanbul this Morning was wet and windy

Today, we are off to the Dardanelles with Canakkale as destination. Since the wind turned south, we had to motor all the way across the Sea of Marmara. In its history, this confined sea has mostly been a peaceful and prosperous place. But twice it was the site of violent clashes. The first time around 700 AD when the Caliphate was created. The second time between 1261 – 1453, when the Ottoman Empire rose to power. Will cover the Caliphate story today.

Arab Conquests in the late 7th and early 8th Century. They tried to take Constantinople 2 x

7 hours into the trip, we decided to stop and stay overnight at Avsa, the most westward of the Marmara Islands. There are still 60 miles to go to Canakkale – we will do this tomorrow morning. The Dardanelles will have to wait.

Sailing through the beautiful Marmara Islands - the weather has improved 100%!

Avsa and other Marmara islands were the Arabs logistics base during their campaign against Constantinople in 670 – 678 and 717 – 717. A few decades earlier, in 636 AD, the Byzantine Empire had lost its entire army at the Battle of Yarmouk. It could only put-up token resistance against the advancing Arabs. Some sources claim that the Arabs came with 5’000 vessels and an army of 200’000. But these numbers are exaggerated. The Arab force was much smaller – usually a few thousand men. It was the Byzantine weakness which allowed them to advance so far and so fast.

Arab Cavalry could not take Constantinople but destroyed many small local towns on the Shores of the Sea of Marmara

The Arabs did not have enough men power for a frontal attack on the Byzantine Capital and had to resort to cavalry raids in Thrace and Asia Minor. During winter time they recovered on the Marmara Islands and resumed their hit and run campaigns again in spring, hoping to disrupt Constantinople’s food supply so severely that the town would have to surrender.

The Secret of Greek Fire was so well kept that it is now lost!

Whilst the Byzantine Army was reduced to 15’000 men, the Theodosian Town Walls held well and the Byzantine Navy was still an effective fighting force. They had a secret weapon, Greek Fire. Nobody knows the precise composition of the lethal liquid. We believe it was similar to Napalm. Shot from flame throwers, it could not be extinguished by water and was very effective when used against wooden ships. The Byzantine Navy was able to burn both Arab fleets which ended their campaign.

Without the Byzantine victories, Europe may have become part of the Islamic world and world history would have taken a different turn. The two failed sieges of Constantinople have the same significance as the Battle of Poitiers in 732 AD, when the Franks Knights beat an invading Arab force deep in the heart of France. At the beginning of the 8th century, a Muslim Europe was a possibility indeed.

A Corinthian Column in Cysikos close to the Turkish Town of Erdek

The once prosperous Greek and Roman towns around the Sea of Marmara paid a terrible price for the two Arab invasions. Most never recovered and were lost forever. We won’t have the time to visit them. There are simply too many and most are not even excavated. But the Vatican holds a list of titular seas where once a Christian population with their own bishop resided - Priapos, Parion or Cysikos to name just a few.

Approaching the most western of the Marmara Islands - Avsa

These days, the Sea of Marmara is peaceful and prosperous again. Big commercial vessels still pass through it but the region now lives from summer tourism. Istanbul is only a few hours away by car or ferry and many of its citizens have summer homes here. The Bay of Avsa is calm – the loudest noise is the sound of children playing on the beach and of small fishing boats returning home with their catch. We will have a quite night.

As always, Flags are up!

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