Byzantium and the Arabs, the two great powers in early Medieval times, continuously fought for thalassocracy in the Eastern Mediterranean from the 7th until the 11th c AD. During this time special attention was paid to the strategic lands of Cyprus, Rhodes and Crete. Arabo-Byzantine relations reached their peak between the Macedonian and the Abbasid dynasties (9th-10th c.). The two rivals aimed at supremacy across the Aegean Sea and the Balkan territories endevouring to create a solid chain of islands as satellites in the eastern Mediterranean in order to expand their domination and trade in the Asia Minor as well as in the Middle East. It is worth citing that both powers sailed in the Aegean having similar purposes and intentions that is to expand their state and commerce in such crucial, geopolitical and strategical lands such as Cyprus, Crete and Rhodes.
There are a great number of relevant sources, written mainly in Arabic and Greek. A careful scrutiny of these sources is needed in order to understand the various facts of this struggle. Great distortion of historical events does appear, especially in the Byzantine sources. Thus, there is an urgent need to evaluate and carefully construe primary source material and archaeological excavations setting aside biased and prejudiced misconceptions. Specifically, it is quite fallacious to accept that the Muslims in Cyprus and Crete were making atrocities by burning churches and torturing innocent inhabitants in caves. These facts are quite controversial since the Christian sources seem to be exaggerated and overestimated as regards the role and behavior of the Arabs in Cyprus and Crete. In contrast, it is more acceptable to claim that the Muslims preferred to negotiate with the local population rather than to open hostilities with them. Of course, it should be noted that in spite of the continuous Arab-Byzantine struggle at the sea, there were simultaneously a number of cultural exchanges especially in Balkan territories.
Archaeological excavations provide significant evidence that the Muslim settlement in Cyprus and Crete was not such a temporary piratical assault but an organized embarkation aiming at a permanent status quo organizing a sustainable naval community in these regions. It should be noted that naval technology used by both powers was almost the same. Obviously both powers had extensively used naval intelligence, a field which needs to be developed. For example, the main warship, called “dromon” in the Greek sources and “shīni” in Arabic, was constructed almost identically.
Another important factor that emerged with a lot of similarities was the utility of spies between Byzantium and Islam in this period. There are many Byzantine and Arabic sources describing the use of spies before and during an expedition. For example, Constantine VII Porphyrogennitus, the Byzantine emperor (10th c.) paid particular attention to prevent the Muslim spies from the Byzantine boarders trying also to preserve the chemical compound of the “Greek fire” in secrecy. However, the “Greek fire”, discovered by the Byzantines, could not remain a secret weapon of the Byzantines in spite of their efforts. Archaeological finds and pictorial evidence shed additional light in order to fill the gap between the Arab-Byzantine struggle in the Medieval Mediterranean and Balkan territories.