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of Val di Noto, ravaging in harvest-time the fields up to the gates of Syracuse, mocking the faint-heartedness of the Byzantine captains under their very bastions, and quietly returning home laden with rich booty. But the walls and appliances of military art were not the only obstacles against the spread of Mussulman conquest-it was also imperilled by those elements of intestine discord before alluded to. Mussulman Sicily was a prey to contests between the colonists and the Aghlabite emirs of Africa, to the inveterate jealousy of the rival branches of the Arab race against each other, and finally to the hatred against the latter which pervaded all the Berbers. Upon the whole the Aghlabites contrived to assert their authority, although the degree depended much on the condition of the Byzantine forces. When these were formidable, the colonists turned their eyes for help towards Africa; their thankfulness for what was sent being quickly laid aside when the danger went over. Often the soldiers would elect a governor of their own, whom when too powerful to slight the wily Aghlabites would confirm. Invariably, however, we find him before long removed by fair or by foul means, and some member of the reigning house come over from Africa in his stead.
While Mussulman authority thus remained circumscribed within the limits to which it had quickly attained on the first burst of invasion, the Byzantine throne fell to the lot of one of those men whom at intervals we find starting up like last straggling offshoots from a rich though now dying stem,-men who in the midst of Byzantine corruption still retained as an heirloom somewhat of their forefathers' virtue, although not free from the flaws of their age's peculiar taint. When the vital energy of society is waning, it can yet often be quickened for a season by the stimulant of a strong will, and the breath of Basil the Macedonian's impulse was felt as vividly in Sicily as in the other provinces of the empire. Instilling some of his native daring into the listless discipline of the legions, Basil strove manfully to recover the olden supremacy of the empire in Italy. Thus Sicily became a chief object of his attention, while he was particularly encouraged by the fact, that its Mussulman invaders happened to be torn by continual discord. Indeed so materially did they feel themselves to be weakened, that on hearing of the vast armaments that were being fitted out in the arsenals of Byzantium, they once seriously thought of leaving Sicily. But Ibrahim ibn Ahmed, the emir who then ruled in Africa, was a man yet more remarkable than Basil. His nature combined at once the remorseless craft of Louis XI., the tiger-hearted ferocity of Cæsar Borgia, and the
astute learning of Machiavelli, making him an arch-traitor, a champion, and a philosopher. Conscience was in him but the keenest and clearest consciousness. He entered on the pursuit of wickedness with as thorough insight into its badness as into the reasons why he sought it; and this purpose he would follow out with a nerve that never knew what it meant to quake, confronted danger with the self-possession of a stoic, and in death won the glory of a hero. Only recently raised to the emirship, he already had in his mind the daring scheme he afterwards put into execution, for breaking the fetters set upon absolute authority in Africa by the aristocratic confederation of Arab chieftains. For this he found it imperative to put an end to the uncertain condition of his Sicilian dependency, which otherwise would leave him neither leisure nor means for his meditated revolution at home. On tidings of Basil's preparations, Ibrahim's bold genius at once resolved to be beforehand with him, and despatching to Sicily a man of his own choice to take command of the army, he girt up his whole strength to deal a deadly blow by the taking of Syracuse. Fifty years had just gone round since Ased had pitched his tents before that stately city, which in that period had shared the progressive decay of the Byzantine empire. While in Ased's day Syracuse had still stretched up to the quarries, it now was shrunk within the peninsula of Ortygia. This time the besiegers encamped in the deserted quarter of the town, the Mussulman general making the forsaken cathedral his headquarters.
Of the siege M. Amari gives a very vivid account; one of his chief authorities being the narrative of an eye-witness, the monk Theodosius. On this occasion the Mussulman force was well provided with all kinds of military engines; and it is especially mentioned that amongst the ordnance there was some of a new and powerful construction, which discharged stones horizontally against the walls instead of pitching them in curves. The city nevertheless persisted in a gallant defence. Its numerous garrison was composed of men from the most warlike populations in the empire, while the Patrician, who was a true soldier, infused his brave spirit into those about him. Moreover, there seemed every reason to reckon upon a vigorous and successful attempt at relief before long. But by some strange spell, the often-tried energy of Basil all at once yielded to the enervating seductions of Byzantine luxuriousness. Abandoning himself to the voluptuous joys of the palace, Basil was content to entrust the armament he had equipped with so much exertion to the care of his admiral, Adrian, a coward of such
shameless degree, that under plea of contrary winds he kept the fleet in the port of Monemvasia until tidings of the fall of Syracuse freed him from the dread of having to engage the enemy. Hunger, therefore, before long began to press sorely on the townspeople. Their sufferings are told by Theodosius in a monkish strain, which raises a smile in spite of the sadness of the story:
All the poultry being devoured,' he writes, 'we were driven to eat whatever we could get, without having regard to fasting regulations for pease, herbs, and oil were exhausted, while fishing was put a stop to the day the enemy became masters of the harbour. A small measure of wheat, if such a thing could at all be found, was worth a hundred and fifty golden byzants (each equal to about ten shillings of our money); of flour, two hundred; two ounces of bread were worth a byzant; a horse's or a donkey's head, from fifteen to twenty; while a whole mare fetched three hundred byzants.'
Both garrison and townspeople bore up against distress with a spirit that smacked of olden virtues. After nine months' siege, a breach was made; still for twenty days and nights the Christians beat back assault on assault, until the heap of corpses crowned the crumbling rampart with a battlement of its own. On the morning of the 21st of May, 878, some Mussulman stragglers, however, contrived to steal unawares upon the watch, when exhausted with fatigue after a night of hard labour. Vainly did the stout-hearted Patrician fly to the spot on the first alarm, and make the most desperate exertions to drive the enemy from those battlements he had been unable to scale in open assault. Quickly supported by comrades, the Mussulmans held their position, and after a few hours were masters of the town, when there occurred a scene of wanton bloodshed and violence such as had not yet been seen in Sicily, and which constitutes indeed a striking exception to the moderation that in general marked the proceedings of the Mussulman conquerors. The Patrician was taken prisoner in a strong tower, to the last behaving himself like a true soldier, while the Archbishop Sofronius, followed by three priests amongst them Theodosius-hastily throwing aside their robes, hid themselves under the altar in the new cathedral. Here they had not lain long, when some of the enemy burst into the church.
'One of the Mussulmans, flourishing a sword that dripped with blood, came behind the altar, and drew forth those who had hidden themselves there, without, however, doing them any violence, or bearing a threatening look. Steadfastly scanning the archbishop's venerable features, he asked him, in Greek, who he was; and upon
being informed, inquired where the holy vessels were. Having been led to the spot where they were kept, amounting to five thousand pounds of precious metals, of finest workmanship,- he made the archbishop and his companions go into a room, the door of which he locked on them. Then calling those whom Theodosius terms the Elders of the Nation, under which name he undoubtedly understands the heads of families in the host, he moved them to pity, saving the lives of the prisoners. This instance of noblemindedness in a leader, and of discipline in soldiers, by the side of deeds of execrable intolerance, proves the medley of race, habits, barbarism, and civilisation-knightliness and robberdom that was to be found in the Mussulman forces that took Syracuse. The least bad in the lot were the Sicilian colonists; and, from the fact of his having spoken Greek, we must set this soldier amongst these.'
The fate of the townspeople and garrison was indeed terrible: all taken with weapons in their hands were doomed to death without mercy, while the others were sold into slavery. A week after the capture all who came within the first category were led outside the city walls and there remorselessly slaughtered in cold blood with revolting barbarity. The first killed was the stout old governor, who met his death with the same equanimity with which he often had sought a soldier's end, his 'head proudly erect, his eye unflinching and calm.' The savage thirst for blood thus slaked, the conquerors turned their fury, not without plausible excuse in motives of policy, against those massive walls which had so long withstood their efforts. But such was found to be their solidity and extent, that only after two months of incessant demolition, did they feel themselves able to retire with the conviction of having done the work of devastation thoroughly enough to insure the ruins being never more in a condition to serve purposes of offence against themselves. Nor could they even then have accomplished their task but for their reckless application of fire, which they laid at all corners, until the once magnificent Syracuse was reduced into 'a labyrinth of ruins, without a living soul.' At last, in the beginning of August, when unable to find further objects of plunder or vengeance, and fearful of being overtaken by the unwholesome exhalations of the Anapus, this year doubly deadly from the wholesale slaughter on its banks, the Mussulmans began to move away. Driving before them long strings of mules, groaning under the weight of all that was costly and gorgeous in the luxury of Byzantine civilisation, they wended their way across the mountain glens that lead in the direction of Palermo, beaming with the flush of pride and success; while by their side tramped wretched files of captured slaves-footweary and drooping Christians of all ranks, who in the bitter
ness of their sufferings might have sighed to exchange their lot with the sumpter mules, to whom the heavy burden of their servitude at least ensured the happy repose of an unbroken sleep.
On hearing of this great disaster, Basil started up wildly from his fatal lethargy amidst the voluptuous delights of Byzantine life; and, calling back all his native energy, resolved on yet winning back the pearl of price just plucked out of his diadem. But the wholesale torpor, begotten by the leaden weight of Byzantine rule, had utterly extinguished all active and enduring feeling for freedom. The imperial government was without a single element that could awaken patriotism and courage. Basil therefore, wisely, had recourse to the only lever which still had the force to move anything like a general agitation-the lever of sectarian animosities. He sought to impel the Christians of Sicily to rise in a fanatical rebellion against their unbelieving lords, promising to help them in such an effort with a powerful armament. Thus at the very end of the contest, that principle was first appealed to and proclaimed which alone could have been in a condition to have made it finish successfully for the Christians.
For the purposes he had in view Basil found ready emissaries of skill in a host of friars, who could safely circulate amongst the population, under the protection of the tolerance extended to their body, by the Prophet's express injunctions, and the instinctive reverence felt by Orientals for all holy recluses. Amongst these monastic agents we meet the figure of one man particularly, who, embodying the full extent of the religious element, and the full range of political and social relations compatible with a monastic profession, stands out at the very close of the struggle, as the memorable and exact counterpart of that other warrior-priest, whose equally uncompromising conviction in his own faith had been the means of impelling, in the first instance, his faltering countrymen to the invasion. This man is Giovanni Racchetta, afterwards canonised as St. Elia, a man of truly unflinching zeal and marvellous dauntlessness. Driven as an infant from Castro Giovanni when in 837 it was taken by the Mussulmans, his earliest impressions were of wandering, banishment, privations, and misfortunes. Up to the age of twelve he lived with his parents at Castel St. Maria; but then
'He fancied that a voice from heaven announced to him captivity and a mission to cheer his fellow-believers in the faith. . . . He appears to have assumed the character of a reformer, reproving the inhabitants for their wicked ways; but he was cut short by the fulfilment of the first part of the vision. Walking outside the city