Muslim conquerors were able to avail themselves of a remarkable and extensive pattern of treachery, opportunism and collaboration from elements among their opponents. The forces of the dar-al-harb were always plagued at the most inopportune times by rebellion, civil war, religious conflict, schism and heresy. Renegades ready to join the Arabs or to “turn Turk” abounded just before or immediately after the warriors of Islam invaded. Often, non-Muslim technicians, mercenaries and scholars seemed to queue up in seeking patronage from Muslim caliphs and sultans. Ambitious non-Muslim rulers and politicians sought alliances against their co-religionists with the Muslims. Many of these were eager to make use of the fierce military energy of Islam and turn it to their own purposes. Suffice it to say that those who played with fire usually themselves ended up burned.
Of course, the long history of treason and betrayal includes many examples of Muslim renegades turning on their own people and of Muslims entering into alliances of convenience with non-Muslims. Thus, such maneuvering for advantage by seeking alliance with infidels was not all one sided. Muslim rulers and rebels certainly engaged non-Muslims as allies against their fellow Muslims. However, these appear to occur with less frequency. In general, the Muslims were much better at this game for most of Islam’s early history. This may well be due to the greater individualism characterizing non-Muslims, as compared to the greater conformity and religious solidarity of the Muslims. Only at times of Muslim retreat, as occurred during the crusades or in modern times, were western powers able to use intra-Muslim rivalry with any degree of success.
Bat Yeor provides the following useful overview of this sad history of treason, betrayal and collaboration skillfully utilized by Muslim leaders:
After the Arab conquest, Muslim caliphs and governors knew how to play on the inter-Christian dissension in order to impose Islam irrevocably on Christian countries. The Monophysite wish to be rid of the Chalcedonian Greeks had facilitated the Persian, and then the Arab, conquest of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Syria; the conquest of Spain was organized by princes and dissident bishops. The Arab advance into Armenia, then the Turkish conquest of Anatolia and the Balkans, were based on the same alliances and betrayals in high imperial and ecclesiastical circles. The alliance between the turban and the tiara constituted a major factor in the Islamic progression, the patriarch under Islam regaining the legislative and economic power which the Christian state had disputed. In fact, the rallying of the Eastern Churches to the Arab-Islamic government reflected the power struggles between the Christian state and the Churches.
Early Arab Conquests
One of the earliest traitors “Mansur ibn–Sarjun (Gr. Sergius), who figured in the treacherous surrender of Damascus … was the scion of a prominent Christian family some of whose members had occupied the position of financial controller of the state in the last Byzantine period.” Indeed, treason was common during the Arab conquest of Greater Syria. “In some cities and towns the Jews, Samaritans, and Monophysite Christians openly collaborated with the invaders. In Emesa (Hims), the local Jews and Christians barred the gates of their city before the Byzantine army. In Hebron and Caesarea, the Muslims were able to penetrate the defenses with the aid of Jewish collaborators.” However, it should be noted that there were instances in which religious dissidents recognized that the invaders might turn out to be a greater problem than the Byzantine rulers. For example, in Gaza “the Jews actually may have fought alongside the Byzantine troops, who were badly outnumbered …, in a vain attempt to defend the city.”
In Egypt there was a notable instance of collaboration by high Church officials. The Patriarch of Alexandria, Cyrus “returned to Alexandria in order to conclude peace. Hoping to administer the country for the Arabians independently of Constantinople, the bishop signed with ‘Amr … a treaty … accepting the payment of a fixed tribute of two dinars per adult head and a land tax payable in kind and agreeing not to allow a Byzantine army to return or attempt to recover the land.”
Persian traitors were also active in helping the first Arab conquerors. In the Arab invasions “of Iraq and Iran the sources tell us of units of the Sasanian army joining the Arabs, after seeing that their government had collapsed. This means that the Arab armies included not only experienced cavalry, but also engineers conversant with sieges.”
In the west, as well as the east, the Arab armies advanced along a path paved by treachery. After the fall of Carthage in 698 the Berbers were “led by a prophetess … who exercised a mysterious influence over her followers. The heroine was at last defeated by treachery and killed.” The Spanish resistance to the Moorish assault was riddled with treason and betrayal. The ships for the invasion were “provided by a certain semi-legendary Julian, count of Ceuta.” The city of Cordova, “after holding out for two months … was delivered to the besiegers through the treachery of a shepherd … who pointed out a breach in the wall.” The city of Toledo was betrayed to the Moors by resentful Jewish residents. .Finally, “the Visigothic army was utterly routed owing to the treachery of the king’s political enemies, headed by Bishop Oppas.” All throughout the peninsula “the Jews rose up en masse in armed revolt against their Visigothic persecutors, and in city after city were organized by the overextended Muslims into garrisons.” Treason at high levels of society continued as the Moors of Spain attempted to establish a foothold across the Pyrenees. In 759 some “Christian potentates in southern France sided with the Muslim invaders” against their Carolingian overlord Pippin.
In the following century, the Muslims began a series of major assaults on Italy. Treason, often at high levels, also marked these campaigns. In Sicily in 825, “Euphemius, the Byzantine admiral, finding himself threatened with imperial punishment for some offence … rebelled … and seized the island. Later, when defeated … he fled to Tunisia and sought the aid of … the Aghlabid ruler …” who sent a fleet to conquer the island. Karsh describes how treachery on the part of local Christian rulers and city-states marked the subsequent Islamic Italian campaigns:
In 837 the duke of Naples appealed for Aghlabi support against a local potentate besieging his city … The thankful Neapolitans reciprocated by assisting the Muslim attack on the Sicilian city of Messina … Naples was joined by the cities of Amalfi and Gaeta, which allowed the Muslims to use their ports for raids on Sicily and the Italian mainland and served as markets for the disposal of the booty obtained in these raids.
…in 876-77 the southern cities participated in the Muslim raids on the Roman littoral, with Naples serving as a base of operations. … As a result, the Muslims entrenched themselves along the road to Rome, plundering and ravaging substantial parts of the countryside at will. It was as late as 915 that the pope finally managed to assemble an effective war coalition that routed the last remaining Muslim forces on the Italian mainland; even then, Amalfi refused to join the campaign while Naples and Gaeta connived to help the enemy escape. …attacks from Sicily and North Africa continued for another century, with the ad hoc connivance of local Italian cities.
The centuries of Turkish conquests culminating in the fall of the Byzantine Empire was accompanied by a plethora of treason, betrayal and collaboration from within the Christian ranks. At the fateful battle of Manzikert “Romanus was an emperor with vast military experience … commanding a hundred thousand well-trained troops … There was, however, treachery among his officers; orders were not obeyed.” Having learned nothing from the experience of their fellow Christians to the south who, at first, welcomed the Arab armies, various groups of religious dissidents and political rebels welcomed the invading Turks. According to Vryonis:
One theory holds that the Christians largely welcomed the Turks. … the Turks were welcomed first of all because Byzantine taxation in Anatolia was oppressive.
This theory … seems to receive further confirmation from the fact that Christians often cooperated with the Turkish conquest. Tzachas could never have built his fleet … without the aid of the anonymous Smyrniote who undertook the construction of the ships. The naval arsenal … erected … under the orders of Abu’l-Kasim must also have been the work of local Christians.
There were also Christian “contingents in the Turkish armies.”
With the death of the emperor Manuel the “last semblance of vigorous defense disappeared and the Turks raided even more frequently, on occasion being brought in by Greek rebels.” Vryonis documents a number of instances of Byzantine aristocrats who employed Turkish contingents to support their acts of rebellion. Pseudoalexius employed 8,000 Turkmen followers of Emir Arslan in 1192. Michael, a rebellious official, obtained troops from Sultan Rukb-al-Din. Manuel Maurozomes obtained Turkish troops to ravage the valley towns of Bithynia. Theodore Mangaphas commanding Turkish troops sacked Caria and enslaved its population. Also Kir Farid and Cassianus delivered the towns over which they were governors to Turkish commanders in return for lands and positions among the Turks.
As will be discussed in the next chapter, conversions to Islam by high Byzantine aristocrats were a frequent occurrence. The following are examples of some Byzantine and other Anatolian aristocrats who converted in order to preserve their lands and social status: Philaretus, members of the Gabras and Comnenus families, Armenian governors of Seveverek and a number of Georgian chieftains. In addition to keeping their estates many of the high-born renegades were rewarded with positions of great power:
…a number of Greek Christians as well as Greek renegades appeared side by side with Turks, Arabs and Persians in the Turkish court, administration and army. … A number of Greeks appear with the title emir…
There are a number of instances where Byzantines fought for the sultan against other Muslims or against the Mongols. Even though that may not, qualify as treason against their countrymen it does indicate a mindset of collaboration, accommodation and the pursuit of personal interest with the end result being the strengthening of the Muslim hold on Anatolia. The following are instances of Byzantines serving as officers in the sultan’s armies at times against their fellow Christians, at others against Muslims or Mongols. A Greek Emir by the name of Maurozones served in an expedition against Cilician Armenia in the early 13th century. Five brothers, the Awlad I Ferdahli from the empire of Nicaea served in a Syrian expedition. Michael Palaeologus served as kondistabl in charge of the sultan’s Christian troops. A Frankish mercenary named Istankus defended Erzerum for the sultan against the Mongols.
The rapidly diminishing Byzantine domains did not see any diminishing of treachery. “The collapse of Byzantine rule in Bithynia and Paphlagonia [late 13th and early 14th centuries] was accelerated and facilitated by the religious and factional strife among the Byzantines there, some of whom went over to the side of the Turks.” One of these was Evrenos the governor of Bursa who “with other leading Greeks, surrendered the city and embraced the Moslem faith.” In addition, in these provinces a number of Akritai, the “Greek frontier warriors … were induced to change sides.” Kinross notes how the Turks, “united as they were in the holy warfare of Islam”, were well equipped to take advantage of such disunity and betrayal.
Probably the greatest single act of treachery occurred in the Fourth Crusade. The act of betrayal by the crusaders toward the empire they were pledged to help protect was “a perfidious attack by the Latin knights of the Fourth Crusade, not against the Moslems of the Holy Land as first projected, but against their fellow Greek Christians in Constantinople.” Also worth noting was that Venice the principal mover of this act of civilizational treason “became the largest slave market in Central Europe, selling even Christian slaves to the Muslims.” Historian of the Crusades Robert Payne writes of the deplorable Latin conquest of Constantinople:
The sack of Constantinople can be explained only by sheer lust for conquest, at whatever the cost in lives and treasure. It was accomplished by treachery in the modern manner, in cold blood, without any regard for the consequences, which inevitably included the weakening of the Byzantine empire, an empire that had for so long been a bastion against the Turks. … They did not even have an interest in recovering the Holy Land; they wanted loot.
The final chapter in the fall of Byzantium was ushered in by the self-serving aristocrat John Cantacuzene. In 1345 six thousand Ottoman troops crossed into Europe “on the invitation of John Cantacuzene … who had proclaimed himself Emperor and required Turkish support in the civil war which followed.” In both 1350 and 1352 Cantacuzene called in another 20,000 Ottoman troops to aid him against his Balkan rivals. In 1353 the Ottomans established themselves permanently in Gallipoli. It must be noted, however, that Cantacuzene’s opponent the empress Anna also sought Ottoman aid, promising sultan Orhan that he could carry off into slavery her defeated opponents. A century later, it was a Christian military engineer who by selling his services to the Ottoman Sultan delivered the coup de grace to the embattled Byzantine capital. In 1452 a Hungarian cannon founder named Orban built the enormous cannon with which Mehmed the conqueror battered the walls of Constantinople.
Some Greeks in the following century appeared to have learned nothing from the history of decimation of their fellows at the hands of the Muslims. In the year 1563 “a number of Cypriots, led by their priests, contacted the Ottomans and asked them to put the island under their rule.” Nor were Western Christians, even after the fall of the great Orthodox capital, immune from the temptation of trying to make use of Turkish might in their petty dynastic disputes. Allying himself with the Ottomans against his fellow Christian rulers Francis I found the Muslim alliance to be a peculiar double edged sword.
In 1543 the Sultan sent Barbarossa westward … in command of a fleet of a hundred galleys, with a French envoy on board. … Barbarossa … was granted as his naval headquarters the port of Toulon, from which a portion of the inhabitants was evacuated, and which the French were presently describing as a second Constantinople …The port indeed presented a curious spectacle, humiliating to the French Catholics, with turbanned Moslems pacing the decks and Christian slaves …even some Frenchmen chained to the benches of the galleys. To replenish their crews … the Turks took to raiding French villages, carrying off peasants to serve in the galleys, while Christian captives were openly sold in the market. Meanwhile, as in a Moslem city, the muezzins freely chanted their own call to prayer … Francis I, having asked for Turkish support soon grew disturbed at the overt nature and extent of it, and its unpopularity with his subjects. … In 1554 Francis I rid himself of his embarrassing ally through bribery, making substantial payments to the Turkish forces and presenting precious gifts to the admiral himself.
The parallel of the 16th century French-Ottoman alliance, to circumstances in parts of the contemporary West, ought to be a lesson the present leadership in both Europe and America would do well to heed.
The seduction of susceptible Europeans continued for many years. In the early 18th century a major role in the restructuring of the Ottoman armies was “played by European experts. Some came as individuals and threw in their lot completely with the Ottomans, to the point of embracing Islam and entering the Ottoman service.” By then Europe was too strong relative to the Ottomans to be in any danger. However, such skills would have been used, of course, to attack Europe if the Ottomans were able to reverse their decline.
In India, as in the west, the Islamic invasions were aided by numerous occurrences of native treason. When ibn Qasim invaded Sind some Buddhists of the city of Nerun “were reminded of their vows on non-violence and came to terms with the invader. Thanks to these ‘Buddhist fifth columnists’ … Nerun capitulated.” During Qasim’s siege of Debal “a Brahmin comes out of the town. He tells the Arabs that the town is guarded by … four long flags of green silk that hang down … the flagstaff … of the great temple … While the flagstaff stands the … people of Debal will fight.” When Qasim had the flagstaff knocked down the defenders surrendered. The pattern of betrayal for the Arab conquest of Sind was set at Nerun and Debal. The “betrayal by nobles or Brahmins or Buddhist priests who do not believe in killing” paved the way for the Arab occupation. Naipaul remarks of these Sind traitors, in words that apply to many of the betrayers in all the lands invaded by the Muslims; they “understand only that power is power, and believe they are only changing rulers; they cannot conceive that a new way is about to come.”
A famous instance of Indian treason occurred centuries later at the beginning of the Mogul regime. When the rajputs, under their leader Sangha, opposed Babur’s invasion of India at the battle of Kanga “defeat resulted not from tactical naivety but from treachery. ‘The Tomar traitor who led the [rajput] van went over to Babur, and [Rana] Sangha was obliged to retreat.’”
In the next chapter we turn to the process by which the triumph of the faith of the Muslim holy warriors was secured for all time. The conversion of the native peoples, who constituted the large majority of every Muslim conquered land made the religion of Islam permanent.
 Yeor, Islam and Dhimmitude, p. 109.
 Hitti, History of the Arabs, p. 195.
 Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands, p. 23.
 Ibid, p. 24.
 Hitti, History of the Arabs, p. 164.
 Frye, The Heritage of Central Asia, p. 203.
 Hitti, History of the Arabs, p. 213.
 Ibid, pp. 493-96.
 Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands, p. 24.
 Karsh, Islamic Imperialism, p. 67.
 Lewis, The Arabs in History, p. 117.
 Karsh, Islamic Imperialism, pp. 66-7.
 Payne, The Dream and the Tomb, p. 26.
 Vryonis, The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor, p. 210-11.
 Ibid, p. 147.
 Ibid, p. 230.
 Chapter 6: Triumph of the Faith.
 Vryonis, The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor, p. 178.
 Ibid, pp. 231-32.
 Ibid, p. 234.
 Ibid, p. 252.
 Kinross, The Ottoman Centuries, p. 30.
 Ibid, p. 27.
 Ibid, p. 38.
 Ibid, p. 37.
 Karsh, Islamic Imperialism, p. 65.
 Payne, The Dream and the Tomb, p. 270.
 Kinross, The Ottoman Centuries, pp. 39-41.
 Leslie P. Peirce, The Imperial Harem, New York, Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 36.
 Desmond Stewart, Life World Library: Turkey, Time-Life Books, 1965, p. 44.
 Kinross, The Ottoman Centuries, pp. 227-28.
 Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong?, New York, Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 28.
 Keay, India, A History, pp. 184-85.
 Naipaul, Among the Believers, p. 137.
 Keay, India, A History, p. 296.