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Given the importance of the holy land to the Christians, as well as the importance of many great cities (Alexandria, Damascus and Jerusalem) to the Byzantine empire, why were not there any early attempts to recapture those strategic and religiosuly important land from the Arabs (either by the Byzantines or Rome)? Were the Byzantines so exhausted from their wars with the Sassanids that they relinquished these lands to the Arabs?

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    Questions that ask about counterfactuals, including Why didn't X do Y? invite speculation and discussion rather than answers. H:SE does not want to discuss alternate histories. H:SE may wish to consider holding these questions to a higher standard of preliminary research (for example proving that there were strategic considerations rather than bluntly asserting it).
    – MCW
    Jun 11, 2014 at 11:51
  • By Rome you mean The Pope?
    – NSNoob
    Dec 27, 2016 at 10:08
  • @MCW I understand this point of view, but you might want to consider sometimes that an OP asking a question might ignore the details of a strategic debate by the time of the event. So the OP thinks about the possibility and asked: "why didn't they consider that?". Then the answer is: " they did consider and did not pursue for X or Y reasons" Nov 1, 2022 at 16:25
  • So what constructive advice would you give to someone who has that kind of question? How do they get the answer they want, while avoiding the appearance of being a fantasy counterfactual? How do they keep the question open and get the answer they want?
    – MCW
    Nov 1, 2022 at 16:33

4 Answers 4

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Because they were too busy trying to keep the Arabs from capturing Constantinople (in the 700s) and forcing them out of Anatolia (after that).

If they had managed that, I'm sure it would have gotten on the agenda. But the Islamic forces remained too strong.

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    +1. Also it wasn't just the Arabs. As soon as Arabs became weak, A new force in shape of Muslim Turks rose and took their place as the fighting power of Asia or Islam if you will. Byzantines just couldn't catch a break. And not to mention, the glorious Fourth Catholic Jihad...Erm Crusade which is arguably the most decisive factor in ultimate fall of ERE.
    – NSNoob
    Dec 27, 2016 at 10:09
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Well, one possible answer to this question may be rooted in the Slavic settlements within Greece proper, as well as Slavic settlements closely approaching Constantinople during the time when the Arab Muslims were conquering the Middle East-(such as Israel/Palestine & Egypt).

Although the Byzantines were engaged in constant conflict with the Persian Sassanian Empire to their East, the unanticipated Slavic settlements to their North, were a growing problem facing the Hellenic homeland, including, Constantinople. The Slavs never officially conquered or captured Constantinople, though they did manage to settle in sizable numbers throughout the Hellenic interior, as well as the wider Southern Balkan interior-(which, at time, was under Byzantine rule).

The Slavic settlements into mainland Greece-(and the Southern Balkans) during the Early Middle Ages, may have been a major geopolitical distraction for the Byzantine Empire and in turn, may have indirectly prevented the Byzantines from recapturing the Middle East from the Arab Islamic colonial onslaught. It appears from the historical literature of the Early Middle Ages that the Slavic settlements into Greece-(and the Southern Balkans) were initially, a major concern for the Byzantines and preserving their Middle Eastern sphere of influence was becoming less significant-(comparatively speaking).

Perhaps if the Slavs had not invaded mainland Greece, as well as the Southern Balkans during the Middle Ages, the Byzantines may have been able to have withstood the Arab Muslim campaigns into the Middle East......though of course it is pure speculation and theorizing.

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  • Greece was indeed overrun by Slavs; but my impression from reading Byzantine history was that the province of Hellas didn't really matter that much to the Empire, and what was happening in Anatolia was much more of a pressing concern. Slavic pastoral settlers were not a military threat to the Empire, the way the Bulgars and Bulgarians became a couple of centuries later. Apr 21, 2018 at 12:22
  • I'm not so sure I agree with your position regarding the greater significance of Anatolia over Greece proper during the Byzantine age. While it was certainly true that Anatolia/ Asia Minor was very important to the Byzantines, the cities of Thessalonica and Constantinople-(which, at the time, would have absolutely been a part of Greece proper), were central to the Empire's geopolitical strength, as well as the major cultural centers of the Empire-(especially, Constantinople). And while the Slavs were mostly confined to the Hellenic interior....they were also not too far away from the Hellenic
    – Alex
    Jan 27, 2023 at 23:14
  • coast...more specifically, not too far from bot Thessalonica and Constantinople. The Slavs did not necessarily pose a military threat to the Greco-Byzantines, but, because of their population numbers, they did dramatically (and irreversibly) transform, mainland Greece's demography, as well as their anthropological and ethnographic identities.
    – Alex
    Jan 27, 2023 at 23:16
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One reason why is the loss of wealth generation. The Arabs took the most wealthiest portions of the Byzantine Empire - Syria and Egypt. enter image description here UNESCO

In Syria was the crucial hub of the Silk Road at Antioch which connected the land route coming from the east with the marine route proceeding to West into the Mediterranean.

Likewise to Antioch, in Egypt was the Silk Road hub of Alexandria which received influx from the Maritime Silk Road coming from the east and running up the Red Sea, and from Alexandria proceeding west (and north) into the Mediterranean.

Along the routes were also other wealthy hubs such as in Tyre, Palmyra, Damascus, and Dara (in Armenia) that were lost to Arabs.

So, not only did the Byzantines lose these major wealth generating areas, but also lost them to their enemy, making the latter wealthy.

And as another has mentioned, after the Arabs came the Turks who (as Seljuks) took from Byzantine the remaining Anatolian Silk Road Hubs, extending their territory to the Aegean Sea and bordering Constantinople by c.1100 AD. enter image description here Source

After the Turks, c.1240 - 1265 AD, came the Mongols of the Golden Horde. They entered from the north, crossing the Danube into Paristrion and devastating Thrace, leaving only Constantinople. The ensuing peace treaty had the Byzantines paying tribute to the Mongols. enter image description here Source

Not only tribute but the Golden Horde had severely weakened the Byzantine grip on the Eurasian Steppe route of the Silk Road. The Mongols took Crimea and gave the coastal city of Caffa to the Genoese whom monopolized the entire Black Sea trading Zone. enter image description here Source

And then there was the Ottomans and earlier the 4th Crusade which was arguably the most disastrous event for the Byzantines.

In short, the Byzantines were continuously on the defensive, being attacked relentlessly by powerful enemies from all sides and gradually losing their wealthiest power zones.

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  • By the time of the 4th Crusade, Egypt and the East had been lost to the Byzantines for five hundred years and Byzantium was far too weak (recall that the crusader army was being paid to fight for one side of a Byzantine civil war) to attempt a reconquest.
    – Mark Olson
    Nov 1, 2022 at 11:59
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The Eastern Roman Empire was in a constant two-front war. Persians, then Arabs, then Turks in the East, Slavs, then Bulgars, and later Normans in the West. The Arabs in particular came close to bringing the empire to its knees in the later 7th century (taking the Near East, Egypt, and Carthage), and it only survived by deep administrative changes that emphasized defensive warfare.

In that sense, the question is more why the Eastern Roman Empire survived for so long, not so much why it was unable to recapture its former territories.

They managed to go on the offensive in the late 10th and early 11th centuries, even capturing parts of Syria. But that turned out to be short-lived and arguably over-extended the resources of the state.

The other problem was that Jerusalem and Egypt had been lost twice in the 7th century (first to the Persians, then to the Arabs), not in small part* due to theological differences. Capturing these places again would again lead to similar political problems with theological undertones.

* But see hints towards differing opinions here after "The relative ease with which Egypt fell"

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  • (will add relevant wp links later)
    – Jan
    Nov 1, 2022 at 9:39
  • Excellent answer! We should not underestimate the tensions within the Eastern Empire between Constantinople and Alexandria. The theological differences fanned and were fanned by their cultural and political rivalry.
    – Mark Olson
    Nov 1, 2022 at 12:38

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