Today in Middle Eastern history: the Battle of Lalakaon (863)

The two centuries-old Arab-Byzantine conflict was on the cusp of a total shift in fortunes in the middle of the 9th century. Where the Arabs had been the aggressors for most of the period following the Battle of Yarmouk in 636, the Abbasid Caliphate now found itself falling apart, with local principalities asserting more and more autonomy from Baghdad and the caliphate’s own Turkish soldiery causing discord at the imperial center. Over the succeeding two centuries, give or take, the Byzantines would take advantage of the breakdown within the caliphate to begin pushing back. But that was all in the future. In 863 the Byzantines were still struggling to fend off multiple threats from several directions—the Arab emirates of Melitene (modern Malatya), Tarsus, and Qaliqala (modern Erzurum) and the Paulicians in Tephrike (modern Divriği) in the east, and the Bulgarians in the west. Then in one fell swoop, at the Battle of Lalakaon that September, everything started to change.

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