In the year 1029, Michael Spondyles, the leader of the Byzantine forces in Antioch, led his troops in an attack against the Muslim-controlled region of Aleppo. Spondyles did not launch his attack arbitrarily—the reigning prince of Aleppo, Halih ibn Mirdas, had recently died while battling the Fatimid Caliphate. As such, the Byzantine military leader thought that the sudden void of leadership would leave Aleppo vulnerable to attack. Nevertheless, theory did not turn into reality, for the defense put forward by the sons of the late prince of Aleppo soundly defeated the Byzantine forces.
With his army in disarray, Michael Spondyles fled back to Antioch. While he was there, Spondyles received word that a prisoner of war wanted to defect and fight for the Byzantine emperor. The prisoner’s name was Nalr ben Musaraf, a leader of several villages located in the mountains of Rawadifi. Musaraf proposed that if a new fortress were built in the region of Maniqa, he would personally use it to wreak havoc on the enemies of the Byzantine Empire. Despite the plan coming from a prisoner of war, Michael Spondyles apparently decided to take the man’s offer. Word of this new defector must have also been sent back to the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, for Emperor Romanos III elevated Musaraf to the rank of patrician.
Nalr ben Musaraf was given written permission allowing him to build a fortress at Maniqa. The historian John Skylitzes (flourished 11th-century) even alleged that the Byzantine Empire spent its own resources on Musaraf’s construction project. When the brand new fortress was completed and garrisoned with around a thousand soldiers, it was handed over to the care of Musaraf.
Unfortunately for Michael Spondyles, Nalr ben Musaraf did not intend to work with the Byzantine Empire for long. When he was finally put in command of his own pristine fortress, Musaraf lost no time in sending word to Tripoli and Egypt of his good fortune. With support from his Muslim allies, Musaraf slaughtered the Byzantine garrison at Maniqa and even captured another fortress at Bikisa’il. After he had conquered the region, Musaraf used the location as a base for raids against Byzantine positions in Syria. Understandably, the emperor removed Michael Spondyles from his post after news spread of Musaraf’s bold betrayal.
The good fortune of Musaraf, however, would soon fade entirely. The Byzantine Empire kept up the pressure, eventually forcing Musaraf out of Maniqa. He later died in a battle against Byzantine forces in 1032, while fighting in Tripoli.
Written by C. Keith Hansely.
Picture Attribution: (the Madrid Skylitzes, fol. 100v, detail. Miniature- The Arab conquest of Syracuse (in 878). Painted c. 11-13th century, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- John Skylitzes. A Synopsis of Byzantine History: 811-1057, translated by John Wortley. Original text c. 11th or early 12th century. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.