Battle of Stelai

The Battle of Stelai, sometimes called Battle of Milazzo or Battle of Punta Stilo in modern literature, was a naval battle fought between the Byzantine and Aghlabid fleets off the southern Italian peninsula. The battle was a major Byzantine victory.

In 879 or 880, Emperor Basil I the Macedonian appointed Nasar as the commander of the Imperial Fleet. Nasar's first task was to confront a raid by a fleet of 60 ships, sent by the Aghlabid emirate of Ifriqiya against the western coasts of Greece. After defeating this fleet, Nasar sailed on to Italy, where he in turn raidrf Aghlabid-controlled Sicily and supported the operations of an army sent to recover southern Italy, under the command of generals Prokopios and Leo Apostyppes.[1]

During these operations, according to the 14th-century historian Ibn Idari, Nasar was confronted by the Aghlabid governor of Sicily, al-Husayn ibn Rabah. Ibn Idari reports that Nasar's fleet numbered 140 vessels, and that after a fierce battle, the Aghlabids were defeated and many of their ships captured. Ibn al-Athir also mentions this battle. It is generally identified with the battle reported by the Cambridge Chronicle and the attempted Aghlabid attack on Rhegion reported in the Vita Eliae iunioris hagiography, which was beaten off by Nasar with 45 ships.[1]

The localization of the battle is unclear. The Cambridge Chronicle gives the site of the battle as Mylas, which has led to identification with Milazzo.[2] Theophanes Continuatus places the battle at the "island called Stelai", which in turn has led to the hypothesis that the battle took place at the cape now known as Punta Stilo, at the southern coast of Calabria.[3] The Byzantinist Vera von Falkenhausen on the other hand pointed out that the end of the Roman road leading from Rome to Rhegion was marked by a column (stylos or stele in Greek) located on a cliff overlooking the coast, and that the locality was known as Stylis in Greek.[4] According to Ewald Kislinger, the latter site corresponds better to both the localization in the narrative of Theophanes Continuatus as well as the report in the Cambridge Chronicle, and that "Mylas" is probably due to a confusion with another battle that took place near Milazzo eight years later.[5]

Nasar's victory at Stelai enabled the Byzantines to send another squadron to Naples, where it scored a victory over the Arabs. These victories were crucial to the restoration of Byzantine control over southern Italy (the future Catepanate of Italy), compensating to an extent for the effective loss of Sicily following the fall of Syracuse in 878. The revival was brief, however, as the Byzantine defeat at Milazzo in 888 signalled the virtual disappearance of major Byzantine naval activity in the seas around Italy for the next century.[6]


  1. 1 2 PmbZ, Nasar (#25490).
  2. Kislinger 1995, pp. 5–6.
  3. Kislinger 1995, pp. 6–7.
  4. Kislinger 1995, pp. 7–8.
  5. Kislinger 1995, pp. 8–10.
  6. Pryor & Jeffreys 2006, pp. 65–66.


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