This is one of several translated excerpts from Byzantine sources produced and mounted with historical introduction and commentary by Paul Stephenson.


Leo the Deacon

Nikephoros Phokas captures Crete and celebrates a triumph, 961
 

Historiae Libri X, ed. C. B. Hase (Bonn, 1828), 24-9 [Book 2]

(24. 9) 6. Nikephoros Phokas, the brother of the aforementioned Leo (it is necessary having recapped the tale to advance the story in sequence), having approached the [island] of the Cretans, wintered there, exercised the army in matters of war, and built siege engines, and when everything had gone according to plan for him,  just at the time when spring [of 961] was emerging calmly from the winter solstice, with the army fully armed around him and arranged into deep battle order, and the trumpets blaring and drums rolling, he marched against the city [of Chandax, modern Chania]. While the general strengthened the battle line at the front, and arranged the forces into a rectangle, a slutty little woman, shaking and stroking herself, being most indecent and lewd, leaning over the battlements, made incantations and enchantments. For it is said that from the first the possessors of Crete have taken up profanities and delusions from the Manichaeans and Mohammed. (25) Not only did this lewd little woman display her rudeness and shamelessness in this way, but she also raised her little tunic way up and bared the parts of her body, as she mocked the general with curses. And then one of the accurate archers, stretching back his bowstring, shot the lewd shameless little woman and brought her plunging to the ground from the towers, and straightaway she shattered and breathed our her little soul, having brought such a pitiable death upon herself as vegeance for her pride. And now as the mighty battle flared, the Cretans held out for some time, fighting spiritedly from the walls and injuring many Romans.

7. The general, observing this, quickly brought forward the ballistic machines and ordered them to shoot the barbarians. And as well as these [machines] he brought the siege engine close to the walls. The Romans call this contraption the ram, by the fact that it is fashioned in iron after the manner of a ram’s head, which was fixed on a beam and slams into wall of the city. As the stone-throwers discharged frequent loads of rocks, the barbarians were easily subdued. And as the ram swung near and smashed powerfully into the walls, many man slipped down into the trench [before the walls] carrying stone-cutting tools, and began to dig there, excavating steadily and cutting the stone where the foundation of the wall had been fixed. By chance there the stone was in part sandy and yielded and gave way easily. And the ram did not stop striking the defence and gradually breaking through the wall, although it was built with care (26) and was hard to tear down. When the walls were overhanging and unsupported, so it seemed, and were destroyed where the men thus assigned had cut through them, the men filled the excavated void with vertically arranged poles to act as props, while piling up dry and combustible wood and setting it on fire, before climbing out of the cutting. With the flame kindled and the supporting beams turning to cinders, the two towers and their conjoining wall fractured and crumbled, slipped down and slid , falling down to the ground. The Cretans were astounded by this unexpected sight, and withdrew for a short while from the battle, panic-stricken by the monstrous event. But then, again, considering the danger of being taken captive and into slavery, assembled into an unbroken battle line and resisted most vigorously the Roman phalanx as it strode through the ruined walls. They fought like demons, risking their lives. But after many were killed, when there were not such men as could stand against such an irresistible onslaught (for the forces pressed down on them from behind and the thrusting was unstoppable), they ran in flight, fleeing through the narrow streets. Following, the Romans killed them without mercy. The survivors and whom the battle had not managed to mow down already threw down their weapons and turned in supplication. When the general saw this, having goaded his horse forward and hastened on his path, he marched in and rebuilt the formation of the soldiers, urging them not to kill (27) those men who had thrown away their weapons and not to behave cruelly and inhumanely towards those who were bare and without arms, calling it inhumane to destroy those who had yielded already and come under one’s control and to slaughter them as if they were fighting. Even with these words the general barely calmed the murderous onslaught of the army.

8. When the whole city was captured, the general set aside the first spoils and the best of the prisoners-of-war he had captured, which he reserved carefully so that he might lead them in a triumphal entry [into Constantinople], and handed the rest over to the troops to carry away as captives. They, passing through the houses, profited from many and copious spoils. For it is said that the great and uncounted wealth of the Cretans was retained within the city, and for a long time they had been more prosperous than all and they endured no type of ill fortune which the rolling passage of time is wont to bring down like diseases. Instead by means of voyages of piracy and robbery to plunder the coasts of both lands [either side of the Aegean], they amassed by such pursuits unspeakable wealth.  But in this manner the city was taken and fell into Roman hands. When everything within had been carried out, Nikephoros ordered that the surrounding wall be destroyed. And when it was ruined in many places, he led the forces once again into the country. Having taken captives and plundered that place, and having subdued all opposing him without bloodshed, he turned to a certain tall and steep hill  (28) situated not far from the destroyed city, and ordered the multitude to construct a wall. The site seemed secure, for besides being secure thaks to the wall it was protected by overhanging banks and sheer cliffs on each side, and from the summit ever-flowing streams discharged so that is was flowing with their waters. Once a most secure and strong wall had been built, and a garrison sufficient for the place installed, he called the town Temenos. And when he had reclaimed the entire island and settled it with bands of Armenians and Romans and other motley men, leaving behind fire-bearing ships for the defence of this place, he took the booty and captives and sailed to Constantinople. And he was received with great honour by the emperor Romanos [II, 959-63] and celebrated a triumph in the Hippodrome, with the whole populace assembled amazed at the amount and beauty of the booty. For great amounts of silver and gold were seen, both barbarian [i.e. Arab] coins of refined gold and cloth of gold thread, and purple carpets and manifold treasures executed with the utmost craftsmanship, gleaming with gold and stones. There were whole suits of armour, and helmets and swords, and breastplates studded with gold, spears and shields and back-stretched bows too many to count (being present there one might have said the whole wealth of the barbarian land was gathered there in the theatre), so that it resembled some sort of abundant river. (29) With these things also were the barbarians who had been captured, assembled in a countless throng.
 
 
 


Paul Stephenson, June 2003; revised January 2012