Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book IV, commentary

Books IV and V recount the last years of Guiscard’s life (1078-1085) and are far darker in tone than the opening three books. They contain important details of events. Book IV begins with the marriage of two of Guiscard’s daughters to Ebles de Roucy and Raymond Berenger II of Barcelona (IV: 8-15), his alliance with Pope Gregory VII against Henry IV with an original description of the reconciliation between Guiscard and Gregory in 1080 (IV: 16-73). The remainder of this book deals with the war between Guiscard and the Byzantine Empire on the pretest of restoring to the throne Michael VII and his young son Constantine betrothed to Guiscard’s daughter Helena, deposed by Nicephorus Botaniates. This is interrupted by the return to Guiscard to Italy in 1082 to deal with a new revolt (IV: 524-535) and his taking of Rome where Gregory VII was besieged by Henry IV (IV: 536-570).

Malaterra briefly describes the war though Anna Comnena’s account in The Alexiad is more detailed. However, William of Apulia’s version is preferable to Anna Comnena in several respects and helps to rectify her errors especially her belief in the involvement of Guiscard’s son Roger Borsa in the first part of the expedition and her chronology of events. William presents the most plausible sequence of events.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book III, lines 589-683

After this victory Robert set off immediately for Giovinazzo. [590] The faithful citizens hurried out to meet him. Who could describe all the thanks that he addressed to them? He praised them all for placing their sworn fealty above even their dear children. He embraced them all and then said, [595] ‘Don’t be afraid. Amicus will not harm any of your lads, because he is begging to be allowed to return to my good graces’. The people replied as follows: ‘You may rest assured that we are ready to follow your orders, and to entrust the fate of our children to our lord, [600] for no [other] love is strong enough to deprive us of your love. We ask only that in return for our love you be our preserver and a kindly ruler’. Hearing the people’s prayers the duke agreed to what they asked. He remitted all the tribute [605] that they owed for three years, and half of it in perpetuity.

Once this was done he left them and returned in haste to Salerno. On his way there he gave rebel villages and castra which had been surrendered to his knights. He fought quite a number of battles at different places. [610] Luck was on his side, for while he was attacking rebellious Ascoli Baldwin was captured in a cavalry engagement. He stormed a castellum called Vico[1]. There Gradilon was captured, and deprived both of his eyes and his testicles. Baldwin was allowed to survive unharmed, [615] though as a supporter of Abelard he was kept in prison under guard.

After accomplishing these deeds during his journey the duke arrived at Salerno. Envoys from Jordan met him there asking for a peace treaty.[2] The duke felt that unless the discord was ended [620] he might very soon lose most of the advantages which he had gained, and so he answered the legates kindly and benevolently. He called a truce, arrangements were made for a meeting and the duke fixed a day for this. The envoys returned home very much elated by the gracious way in which he had received them, and reported the good news. [625] Jordan was very pleased by what they told him. At the same time the duke sent some picked knights to Giovinazzo, ordering them not just to help his own men but to work to injure the enemy and to damage them in every way that they could find. [630] These arrived at Giovinazzo after a long detour travelling by side roads, for the direct route was impossible and their adversaries numerous. Once there they began to attack the duke’s enemies with vigour. [635] Those who had previously been used to go out plundering now complained that they were the victims and were unable to venture forth in safety.

On the day appointed the duke and Prince Jordan both went eagerly to Sarno. A peace was concluded between them, and agreed with Rainulf on the same terms. [640] He was Jordan’s paternal uncle, the duke was his maternal one[3]. After dealing with these matters, the duke returned to the fortresses of Apulia[4]. He captured the castrum of Spinazzola, which Amicus had fortified and stocked with arms and in which he had stationed his son with a large force of knights, [645] all of whom the duke captured. Only Amicus’ son[5] was able to run away and escape. Fearful of further losses Amicus begged for peace[6]. The kindly duke granted him this and recovered the hostages. Grieving fathers were made joyful by the return of their children and the mothers of Giovinazzo stilled their weeping.

[650] The conclusion of these treaties terrified the duke’s proud nephews, Counts Robert and Geoffrey.[7] And when they asked for pardon their uncle indulged them, forgetting the harm that they had done him and his own anger. [655] Counting on their alliance, the duke besieged Bari with a large force of knights. Argyritzos, father-in-law of that Abelard who was the only one to avoid making peace, welcomed the duke to the city and was restored to his favour. His son-in-law was excluded from the peace and expelled from the town. Since he would not make peace with the duke, [660] Abelard abandoned the possessions which he had inherited from his father and went as an exile to the land of the Greeks, then ruled by the Emperor Alexius[8]. The latter, a kindly man, received him graciously, treated him honourably and gave him many gifts. But envious death, which spares no one, infected his youthful limbs; [665] and he who believed that he would one day return in triumph to power, bearing the symbols of office [cum fascibus], by contrast died in exile among the Greeks and was buried there.

Irritated by Peter’s rebellion, the duke besieged Trani with his army reinforced by the people of Bari who had now joined him. He left his wife at this siege while he himself with many of his knights went on to Taranto, which he invested by land and sea and very soon captured. After this victory he pitched his camp outside Castellaneta[9] and laid siege to that. [670] Count Peter was by this stage a prey to terrible anxiety, and since he saw that fortune favoured the duke and was hostile to him he now sought pardon and peace. The duke despatched envoys who informed him that he must hand over Trani and Castellaneta to him. [675] Should he fail to do this, he would not be granted peace. Peter went to the [duke’s] camp with his garments in disarray, entered, and asked for pardon and a peace treaty. [680] He summoned the guards of the fortress and ordered them to leave their towers and on his instructions they handed the walls over to Robert. He also surrendered Trani to secure his return to the duke’s good grace, [685] and he swore obedience to him and became his fidelis.

Thus it was that the brave and clever duke made the stiff-necked bend [before him] and knew how to put an end to conflict.


[1] Today, Vico is Revico, in the province of Avellino.

[2] Guiscard was in Salerno in July 1079 and the peace treaty with Jordan was brokered, not without considerable difficulty, by Desiderius, abbot of Montecassino.

[3] Jordan was the son of Fredesende, Guiscard’s sister while Rainulf was the brother of Richard I of Capua.

[4] Guiscard took Monticchio, Carbonara, Pietrapalomba, Monteverde, Genzano and Spinazzola.

[5] Count Geoffrey was the son of Amicus.

[6] It appears that Amicus was reconciled with Guiscard and accompanied him in his expedition against Alexius Comnenus.

[7] Geoffrey de Conversano also appears to have been reconciled with Guiscard and was one of the Norman counts present at his death in 1085.

[8] The precise chronology of Abelard’s exile to Greece needs to be made clear especially as Alexius Comnenus did not become emperor until April 1081 and the rebellion ended in 1078. It seems that Abelard left Italy immediately after the rebellion but that he returned after Guiscard embarked on his campaign in Greece in 1081 and acted as an intermediary between Alexius and the emperor Henry IV. Malaterra states that after the capture of San Agata in 1078 Abeland and his brother Herman left for Greece though Greek sources say it was after the capture of Ascoli.

[9] Castellaneta was captured by Geoffrey de Conversano in 1064. It later came under the control of count Geoffrey of Taranto and then in the possession of his brother Peter II of Trani. The town was recaptured by the Greek admiral Mavrikas in 1067.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book III, lines 429-588

Refusing to tolerate such an insolent reply, the angry duke marched on Salerno with a gigantic army and besieged it by land and sea. [430] After this siege had lasted for some four months, the inhabitants of the unhappy city were afflicted by terrible famine and the population was barely able to survive by eating dogs, horses, rats and the corpses of donkeys. One of the citizens escaped from the city, in which he had left his father, and reached the camp. [435] His dog, which lived in his father’s house, searched for and found him thanks to its keen nose. He gave it food, and after its appetite had been satisfied by the meal he used to attach a sack to its chest filled with enough bread to feed someone for a day. [440] Amazing to relate, the dog ran back without stopping and carried it straight home, and in this way the wise animal secured nourishment both for himself and for his master. In the eighth month the citizens went out and, making a breach in the walls on the side offering the easiest entry, [445] threw the town open to Duke Robert. Gisulf was terrified by Robert’s capture of the city. He fled to the tower built on top of the mountain overlooking the city, access to which had been made difficult both by nature and by [human] art. There seemed to be no more defensible stronghold in the whole of Italy. [450] Robert besieged this citadel with a strong force. But one day the duke was struck on the breastplate by a stone thrown with great force from on high, and a piece unluckily chipped off and injured his noble chest. Not long afterwards however, with the help of God, [455] his wound was cured and he was restored to health. Once recovered, he pressed the attack on Gisulf even harder. The latter saw his fortunes become desperate, and, with no hope of relief, surrendered himself and all he possessed to the duke’s mercy. [460] He asked only that he himself might have liberty to depart, and in this way, leaving all his possessions to the duke, he left a free man. Deprived of the honour of Salerno he went first of all to Pope Gregory.[1] On his arrival the pope received him kindly and entrusted to him rule over the Campania.[2]

[465] Robert rejoiced in having overcome both the city and the citadel. He garrisoned the upper citadel with trustworthy guards in case there should in the future be a revolt by the populace. He [also] built an impregnable fortress in a lower spot to secure the safety of his subjects. [470] There is not a city in Italy more delightful than this one, filled with fruit, trees and wine, and with abundant water. It lacks neither apples nor nuts, nor fine palaces, nor indeed beautiful women and honourable men. Part of it is sited in the plain and part in the mountain and whatever one could wish for is furnished by land and sea. [475] At the same time he acquired Amalfi, a wealthy city seemingly filled with people. None is richer in silver, gold and textiles from all sorts of different places. [480] Many sailors live in this city who are skilled in the ways of the sea and the heavens, and many different things are brought here from the royal city of Alexandria and from Antioch. Its people cross many seas. They know the Arabs, the Libyans, the Sicilians and Africans. This people are famed throughout almost the whole world, [485] as they export their merchandise and love to carry back what they have bought.

After these people had been made subject to him and he had finished everything that had to be done, the duke returned to Troia.[3] While he dwelt within the walls of that city there came to him a noble north Italian [Lambardus, sic] margrave called Azo, [490] who was accompanied by many nobles from his country. He brought with him his illustrious son Hugh and requested the duke to grant the latter his daughter in marriage. The duke summoned his counts and barons to the town to discuss what should be done about this. [500] On their advice Robert gave his daughter to Azo’s son, and they celebrated the marriage as was customary with feasting and giving many presents. After all the marriage celebrations had been completed, the duke demanded that the counts and all the other powerful men there give presents to the husband and wife, to send them away rejoicing. However, when previously his other daughter[4] had entered the house of Michael’s son, they had not given an aid [auxilium]. [505] They were all of them saddened and amazed that the duke should demand such a levy from them. But they were unable to resist, and offered mules, horses and other presents. The duke gave these to his son-in-law and added other presents of his own, then he sent him and his father back to their own land with great honour on the fleet which had been prepared for them.

The Norman counts frequently complained amongst themselves of such bad [510] and infuriating behaviour by the duke towards them, but for a long time they kept their anger and disloyalty concealed. But finally they admitted Jordan son of Richard to their plans, and at the same time they revealed all to the latter’s uncle Count Rainulf. [515] Trusting in their assistance, Peter and Geoffrey[5] revealed their treachery and made war on the duke. The latter’s nephew Abelard son of Humphrey, mindful of the loss of his lands, tried with all the means at his disposal to harm the duke, [520] allied with Gradilon to whom he had given his sister as wife. Nor did they lack the aid of Baldwin, a most eloquent and warlike man. Among their other associates were Counts Henry[6] and Amicus[7], and the clever Count Robert of Montescaglioso [525] who was Geoffrey’s brother, both of them being sons of the duke’s sister. His wish to rule over them inflamed the anger of his nephews against him and they all did their best to deprive him of the ducal honour.

This revolt was not confined only to Apulia but sprang up in Calabria and Lucania and even in Campania. [8] [530] The enemy was everywhere to be feared and the ravages of brigands struck all over the place. A host of thieves sprang up all over Italy. The Normans were split into different factions. But although the duke’s enemies were more numerous than his own forces, the most warlike men remained consistently faithful to Robert. [535] The city of Trani surrendered to Peter and Argyritzos, whom Robert had entrusted with the great city of Bari, gave it to Abelard to whom he married his daughter. However, while these cities fell away during this crisis, [540] the faithful people of Giovinazzo[9] did not desert the duke. Argyritzos summoned them to surrender the town to Amicus, who was to have it, threatening them that if they refused to surrender he would give Amicus as hostages their sons, [545] whom the duke had confided to his charge. They did not however sacrifice their loyalty to their paternal feelings, declaring that they would always serve the duke. Amicus marched to seize the city with Count Peter and a large army. [550] Argyritzos too joined in the siege, along with the people of Bari, Trani and Corato, as well as those of Andria and Bisceglie.[10] The people of Giovinazzo remained steadfast, [555] deterred neither by the siege nor by the arms [of their enemies]; they took every precaution to defend their walls, posted guards, and fiercely repulsed those surrounding them. The latter attacked, but the defenders drove them off, and although the siege was pressed both by land and sea it did not succeed in capturing the city.

An envoy was sent from the city of Bitonto under orders to spread false rumours, [560] a scheme astutely devised by William Fitz Ivo to whom the duke had granted the city. The envoy said that, ‘Look, Robert’s son Roger [Borsa] is coming with a huge force of knights and infantry which the duke has entrusted to his command’. [565] Thinking that this army was drawing near, all the troops that Amicus had brought to besiege the city in the hope of taking it then fled.[11]

Although he had heard that a great many rebels had joined together, the duke was not a bit afraid.[12] He overcame them all by force of arms [570] or by cunning; attaching some to him by soft words and defeating others in battle. Astute and brave, he knew both methods. He seized the castles of some and with honeyed words persuaded others, who would never have yielded to force, to surrender. Thus he left his cavalry at the River Bradano [575] and went with part of his forces to Calabria. There he pacified the people of Cosenza, who were particularly good infantrymen, and then returned bringing them along with him. But before he left with this escort he gave these people everything that he possibly could. [580] He was in haste to fight all those who were disloyal. The faithful city of Giovinazzo was sent some knights. He sought first to make a powerful attack on Bari, where he knew Abelard was. The people of Bari trusted in their numbers and in their leader, who was a mighty warrior, and engaged the duke in battle. [585] But Abelard’s hauberk was pierced by a lance and failed to protect him. Wounded by this thrust in the chest he was unable to continue amid the shock of battle and his troops fled back to the city walls.


[1] Cowdrey, H. E. J., Gregory VII, (Oxford University Press), 1998 and his edition of the letters of Gregory VII The Register of Gregory VII, (Oxford University Press), 2002 is the best starting-point. Delarc, O., Gregoire VII et la reforme de l’Eglise au XIe siecle, Paris, 1889 remains useful. Robinson, I. S., (ed.), The Papal Reform of the Eleventh Century, (Manchester University Press), 2004 includes contemporary biographies of Gregory VII.

[2] Gisulf was forced to surrender the citadel in the spring of 1077 because of starvation on condition he was set free. He went first to Richard of Capua and then to Pope Gregory VII

[3] Success at Salerno did not mark the end of Norman attempts to extend their authority. Richard of Capua, with Robert’s support attacked the papal Campagna in 1076. Bad weather and problems with food supplies meant this achieved little other than the excommunication of Richard and Robert by Pope Gregory VII. In May 1077, Richard began his siege of Naples with the city blockaded with Duke Robert’s ships and the city was still resisting when he died on 5th April 1078. His son Jordan, who had been in dispute with his father for several years and had already made his peace with the pope with his uncle Rainulf de Caiazzo, then abandoned the siege on the payment of tribute and a de facto Capuan protectorate over Naples. In December 1077, Duke Robert attempted to seize Benevento after the death of Prince Landulf IV on 17th November. This ended in failure after five months. The city was saved by the intervention of Jordan of Capua who was anxious to cement his good relations with the papacy but was also determined not to allow Guiscard to extend his power any further. Further revolts in Apulia in the winter of 1078-1079, his preoccupation with the Byzantine Empire and his reconciliation with the papacy in 1080, all combined to prevent Robert from threatening Benevento again.

[4] One of Guiscard’s daughters had been sent to Constantinople and engaged, under the name Helena, to Constantine the young son of Michael VII: the contract of marriage is dated August 1074 and there are two letters (1071-1072, 1072-1073) in which Michael proposed the marriage alliance. Amatus suggests that there were three Byzantine embassies to Guiscard before he agreed to the match.

[5] Geoffrey de Conversano.

[6] Henry of Monte Santa’ Angelo.

[7] Amicus II de Giovinazzo, grandson of Amicus I and second cousin of Geoffrey of Taranto and Peter II of Trani.

[8] William of Apulia is the major source for this, the most serious rebellion against Guiscard. Malaterra mentions it, almost in passing and Amatus’ history ends in April 1078. However, Amatus does write of the revolt of Abelard between 1073 and 1076 and mentions Jordan among the conspirators in 1073.

[9] Giovinazzo had been returned to Guiscard on 7th February 1073.

[10] Guiscard had captured Trani, Bisceglie and Corato in 1073 but had returned all the towns he took to Peter II apart from Trani.

[11] William of Apulia is the only source for this event.

[12] Guiscard was in Calabria when the revolt started.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book III, lines 305-428

[305] When the duke saw his men all toiling to seize the walls, he himself was at pains to labour carrying the ladders. Then he ordered his men to climb up. Together they rushed to scale the walls, [310] and against them the people of Palermo manned those walls, spread out along the ramparts. Both peoples made the same effort, but for very different reasons - one to take the city, the other to defend it. One side fought for themselves their children and their wives; the other wished to conquer the city to please the duke. [315] As both sides struggled with such effort, fortune favoured the duke and was cruel to the city, for suddenly a group of knights climbed up the ladders and reached the top of the wall. The Sicilian defenders turned and fled. [320] The new town was captured, and they took refuge in the old city.

Seeing that their forces were exhausted and losing all hope of safety, the Agarenes begged the duke to take pity on their sad fate and not to take revenge on them. [325] They surrendered unconditionally to the duke, asking only that their lives be spared. By this surrender (and their pleas) they secured mercy and favour from the duke. He promised them their lives and his grace. [330] There were no exceptions to this, and keeping his word, even though they were heathens, he was careful not to harm anyone. He treated all his subjects equally. [However] to glorify God he destroyed every vestige of the temple of iniquity, and where there had previously been a mosque he built the church of the Virgin Mother, [335] and what had been the seat of Mohammed and the demon he made the house of God and the gate to Heaven for the just.[1] He had castles with strong walls built where his army could remain in safety from the Sicilians, and he furnished them with wells and ample supplies. [2]

[340] After building these fortresses and taking some hostages, Robert returned victorious to the city of Reggio, leaving a knight of the same name at Palermo whom the Sicilians were given as their emir[3] [amiratus]. [345] He allowed all the Greeks who had been captured at Bari to leave with Stephen Pateranos. So the most kindly duke allowed his enemies to depart unpunished, for [rather than this] he preferred them to become his loyal supporters. [350] Accompanied by the Bariots, the Calabrians, the hostages from Palermo and his knights, the duke went to the walled city of Melfi[4]. This town was the capital of the entire Apulian region. The counts and leading men from this whole area flocked here; everyone wishing once again to see their prince’s face. [355] Only Peter, son of that Peter[5] of whom I have already spoken, refused to come there. On the death of his elder brother Geoffrey he had inherited the rights of his father and nephews, up to the time when the Richard, the son of his brother, should reach the age of legal majority. The duke did not trust Peter since he had previously refused to send help to him in Sicily.[6] [360] However after calming Peter’s fears, he summoned him to him. The duke then told him that Taranto[7] had been given to him by his [the duke’s] brother and he now demanded back his brother’s gift. [365] Peter refused to render to him what his father had conquered by force of arms. This was the reason for the grave quarrel that arose between them. Going to Andria, Peter began in all sorts of ways to make ready for war; he ordered new weapons to be prepared, [370] recruited troops, sought everywhere for help, and made every effort to preserve the integrity of all his property. [8]

The duke meanwhile decided to besiege Trani, a town of illustrious name, filled with riches, arms and a large population.[9] Peter led a dozen picked knights [375] to the city, to encourage the citizens to stay loyal to him and to reassure them by his presence. While he addressed them in a lengthy speech, Robert and his army suddenly appeared and spread over the plain. The citizens were besieged for fifty days, [380] and Peter was shut up with them inside the walls. They begged the count to consent to the surrender of the city, for they could no longer put up with the damage that was being inflicted upon it. At first he was gravely offended and refused. Finally they forced him, [385] and he tearfully requested that he and his companions might be allowed to depart freely; on this condition he consented that the town be surrendered to the duke. He left the city without letting the duke see him, nor did he wish to see the duke, so hateful did he find the sight of the duke’s face.

[390] On the surrender of the renowned city of Trani, the inhabitants of Giovinazzo and Bisceglie also surrendered. Bisceglie belonged to Peter and Giovinazzo to Amicus, whose father was Peter’s uncle. The duke hated him because he had given help to his brother, [395] and because he had tried to go to Dalmatia without his permission. [10] On receiving this news, and anxious to secure Peter’s surrender, the duke began the blockade and siege of Corato. Peter heard that this castrum was surrounded by siege-castles and, not daring to make a stand there, escaped safely to the walls of Andria. [400] But while he was absent from Andria, having gone to Trani with a following of fifty knights to carry off some booty, on the duke’s order Guido, [405] his wife’s brother, introduced forty knights to the city. Then, making a sudden sortie, they spread out across the fields and captured Peter, bringing by force before the duke the man who had previously refused to see him. His capture put an end to the duke’s toil. But after being bound by an oath of fealty Peter was eventually set free and recovered all that he had lost. He departed a free man, [410] deprived only of the lordship of Trani.

Meanwhile, the people of Amalfi, who for some time past had been paying an annual tribute to him, [415] several times asked for the great duke’s help.[11] They claimed that Gisulf’s attacks were perpetually troubling them both on land and sea. In answer to these peoples’ request Robert ordered Gisulf to cease vexing the Amalfitans, who had been accustomed to pay tribute to him. [12] He did not wish to break their old treaty of friendship, [420] and love for his sister might make him desist [his attacks]. He promised that he would recompense him. Gisulf returned a haughty answer to the envoys [425] who brought him this message. He said that he would not grant peace to the duke unless the latter rendered him the service which he owed.


[1] Both Amatus and Malaterra state that Guiscard celebrated mass in the church of the Virgin Mary with the Greek archbishop of Palermo.

[2] Following Malaterra, it is likely that this means that Guiscard reinforced the existing Arab castles: the Castello by the sea and a second in the Galea.

[3] The first Norman emir of Palermo was called ‘Petrus Bidonis amiratus Palermi’, cited in a diploma of count Roger in Palermo, August 1086. The emir or ‘admiral’ was essentially an administor whose role went far beyond that of commander of the fleet: Menager, L.R., L’emirat et les origins de l’amirauté, Paris, 1959, chapter 2.

[4] Once in Calabria, Guiscard moved quickly to besiege Peter and Aberlard in Trani.

[5] Peter I of Trani, son of Amicus, I was the father of Geoffrey of Taranto and Peter II of Trani. Richard, son of Geoffrey is probably the Richard, count of Andria cited but was not identified by ibid, Chalandon, F., Histoire de la domination normande en Italie et en Sicile, vol. 2, p. 208, no 2 and was still alive in 1119.

[6] Amatus states that during the siege of Palermo, Richard of Capua allied himself to Peter II and his brother Falgutce who rebelled at Trani with Abelard.

[7] Tarento was briefly captured by Guiscard in 1060 but was recaptured from the Greeks of Geoffrey, son of Peter I in 1063. Ibid, Chalandon, F., Histoire de la domination normande en Italie et en Sicile, vol. 1, p. 177 believed that Geoffrey remained loyal to Guiscard during the rebellion of his brother Peter II of Trani.

[8] Andria had been fortified by Peter I of Trani.

[9] Trani was besieged by land and sea between January and February 1073 and surrendered because its people forced Peter to capitulate.

[10] This refers to the expedition of Amicus to Dalmatia in 1074-1075, an event that is not really considered by Norman historians. However, Croatian sources speak of the capture of the king of Croatia, probably Peter Cresimir by a ‘comes Amicus’. King Petar Kresimir IV. (1058-1074) merged the Kingdom of Croatia and Slavonia and was confirmed by Pope Gregory VII as ‘King of Croatia and Dalmatia’.

[11] However, in 1072-1073 he was distracted by another revolt among the Apulian Normans, encouraged by Richard of Capua and his troublesome nephew Abelard. This delayed further his attempts to bring the remaining Lombard territories under his control. Amalfi and its little duchy voluntarily submitted in late 1073 after the death of duke Sergius IV though Pontieri argues that this was initially a protectorate and was not an effective occupation until 1076. However, he did not capture Aberlard’s stronghold of Santa Severina in northern Calabria until 1075. A peace treaty with Richard of Capua was brokered with difficulty by abbot Desiderius of Montecassino in 1076 and this allowed Robert to move finally against what was left of the principality of Salerno. The reason for the attack of Salerno that all the chroniclers agree on was the continued poor and brutal government of Gisulf IV. However, Amatus, William of Apulia and Malaterra were pro-Norman apologists and it is important not to accept their witness unequivocally. Amatus’ denunciations of Gisulf are so extreme as to suggest a strong personal motive. It is plausible that Amatus was a former bishop of Paestrum in the south of the principality of Salerno who had resigned his see in the 1050s and become a monk at Salerno. Why he did this is not known and Amatus himself provides no evidence for his reasons. However, we do know that in the 1050s Gisulf was trying to limit ecclesiastical privileges. If this is the case, then Amatus’ hostility to Gisulf is understandable. In addition, there is ample evidence for the growing internal weakness in the principality for at least a decade that meant that it was not a question of if Robert was going to attack Salerno but when. The siege of Salerno began in early May 1076 and lasted for seven months when the city was betrayed to him. Gisulf and his brothers took refuge in the citadel but this too surrendered early in 1077. They were expelled from the city and their land confiscated. Robert’s policy was to reconcile the local population to his rule as quickly as possible. Henceforward Salerno rather than Melfi or Venosa became the centre of his power. The acquisition of the city and the remaining part of the principality was the most significant and successful step towards the consolidation of the whole of mainland southern Italy in Norman hands.

[12] Gisulf’s attacks on Amalfi began before October 1071 when he began to blockake the city. On the death of the last duke Sergius IV, the Amalfitans tried to place their city under the protection of Pope Gregory VII but he refused. They then entered into an alliance with Guiscard to protect them from Gisulf who, hostile to Guiscard entered into an alliance with the Pope to counter the Norman threat in 1073.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book III, lines 167-304

Rumour has it that in the waves of the Adriatic, not far from the shore, there was a great fish, horrid of body and incredibly shaped, of a type not seen before by the people of Italy, [170] and that the springtime wind had induced it to come there because of the warm water. The duke’s cunning, using a number of methods, led to its capture. The fish swam into rope netting and sank to the bottom of the sea along with the heavy iron weights which had been attached to the nets. Finally, after being wounded by the sailors from a number of high places [in the boats], [175] the monster was dragged ashore to be gazed at by the populace. Then, on the duke’s orders it was cut into pieces on which he and his men fed for a long time, as did the people who dwelt in Calabria. [180] Even the people of Apulia far and wide shared in this. The dorsal spine, when it was cut off, measured four palms in circumference.

After remaining here for a little while Duke Robert set off for the city of Reggio. While he was staying there a bridge was built, [185] and as a result the whole area is now called Pons Guiscardi. The Bariots carried out his orders, and he prepared everything that had to be made ready within the walls of Reggio. After gathering together knights, supplies and ships, the duke crossed the sea to Sicily with a large following.[1] [190] This sea, although narrow, is difficult to cross. Scylla and Charybis here present different sorts of danger; the one turns boats over; the other shatters them on the rocks.

[195] In Sicily[2] the assistance rendered by his brother Roger, who had already conquered a substantial part of the country raised the duke’s spirits. Roger was younger than him, but no less valiant. None of his brothers, excellent though they were, entered upon so noble a war, [200] for wishing to exalt the Holy Faith in which we all live, he fought continually against the Sicilians, enemies of the Divine Name, and dedicated his youth largely to this work until the time when the submission of the Sicilian race would allow him the right to rest.

Confident of his assistance, and in the great army which he had brought with him, the duke [205] was not without hope of laying siege to and conquering Palermo, which he had heard was the most noble of the Sicilian cities[3]. Surrounded by Robert’s many soldiers the city grew fearful. The inhabitants reinforced their walls and towers, prepared arms and men, [210] closed the vulnerable gates and placed a numerous sentries on guard throughout the city. The duke ordered his well-armed knights to approach the gates, that by doing this they might provoke the enemy within to battle. He astutely intended to do all in his power to cause the citizens damage and difficulty. [215] Unable to stand this the Sicilians sortied out from the gates and once outside fought back bravely; they were unable however to resist the fierce Normans. The people of the Agarenes held their own for a while but could not overcome the followers of Christ. [220] They fled, followed by our men who slew many of them with their swords and lances. Javelins and arrows flew everywhere from the top of the walls, and they [also] tried to injure our men with rocks and spears. Driving them back within the city defences, our troops returned joyfully to camp.

[225] The Palermitans then approached the Africans asking for their help, and joining their forces together they undertook on the sea the battle that they did not dare to attempt on land[4]. They believed that this element would be more suitable for waging war. [230] Drawing up their ships according to the rules of naval warfare and covering them all over with red canvases as a protection to ward off the impact of stones or javelins, they sailed bravely to battle, ready to act as men and heedless of whether they lived or died. [235] The duke ordered the Normans, Calabrians, Bariots, and Greeks whom he had [previously] captured, to strengthen themselves with the Body of Christ, and after they had received this and the Blood to engage in battle. Under the protection of this nourishment the forces of the faithful went forward to battle, their ships furnished with all the arms needed for success. [240] The unbelievers filled the whole sea with the sound of their trumpets and clarions and with their shouting. The Christians by contrast sought the help only of the Eternal Ruler, on Whose Flesh they had fed. They were not a bit frightened by the noise and resisted their enemies fiercely, manfully dealing out blows. [245] At first the African and Sicilian ships fought back; but finally and by Divine aid they were forced to retire. When they did seek to flee, some of them were captured and others sunk. Most of the ships narrowly escaped because of the rapid use of their oars. After their return to port, they immediately raised the chains with which they were accustomed to close the entry channels. [250] The Christians however broke through these chains captured some of their ships and set fire to most of the others.[5]

[255] This victory made the duke very confident.[6] He now devoted all his attention to force an entrance into the city, employing a number of schemes to secure its capture. He had the infantry furnished with slings and bows, and ordered the armoured cavalry to follow him. [260] The infantry came close to the [city] wall and bombarded the ramparts with stones and arrows. The infidels came out from the city to oppose them and the foot-soldiers, unable to withstand them, fled. When the duke saw them give ground and scatter all over the plain, [265] he gave the signal to his whole force for an immediate attack, encouraging them by voice and gesture as an energetic general should. The Sicilians remained for a little while after battle was joined and then, terrified by the sight of the duke, turned tail. The duke cut them down, and encouraged his men to strike the unbelievers in the back, [270] nor did he cease to kill his enemies until he had reached the city gates. The duke’s people inflicted all sorts of different wounds upon the enemy, some with swords, others with the lance; many with shots from slings, most of all were caused by arrows. [275] Passing over the bodies of the slain, he tried to enter the city gates along with the fleeing Sicilians, [hoping] to capture it and put an end to his labour. But the city was so filled with terror [280] by the enemy attack that its inhabitants closed and bolted the doors, leaving a large number of their men outside, all of whom were massacred.

[285] Seeing his cavalry discouraged by the long battle, Robert asked them to persevere with what they had begun. ‘Men, your courage has stood up to a number of tasks, but it will’, he said, ‘deserve either praise or blame. This city is an enemy to God, and knowing nothing of the Divine worship it is ruled by demons. Deprived of its old strength, it now trembles as though it is broken. If it sees you continue bravely, it will not dare to make further resistance. [290] But, if you cease your efforts, then tomorrow, with its strength renewed, it will resist you more fiercely. Hurry, while you have the chance! This town is hard to take, but, with the mercy of Christ, will be open [to us]. Christ makes difficult work easy. [295] Trust in His leadership, let’s put an end to this conflict, and all hurry to storm the city’!

With these words Robert heartened his men. They rushed to climb the walls with scaling ladders, promising to fulfil the duke’s wishes. In a similar manner a good charioteer who realises that his speedy horses are giving up the race spares them and allows them a breather. [300] Then, when they are rested and their wind is restored, he makes them return to the track, urging them on with regular spurring until they finish the course. So, under the guidance of a wise driver, those who seem beaten pass the ones who are used to victory.[7]


[1] Guiscard assembled his army, consisting of Calabrians and ‘people of several races’ according to Amatus, in Calabria crossing the sea to Messina in 40 boats.

[2] The fall of Bari brought all of Byzantine Apulia under Norman hands. Brindisi, the only other substantial Byzantine town had been captured shortly before Bari fell. Guiscard then turned his attention to Sicily, transferring his forces to support Roger in the siege of Palermo which surrendered in January 1072.

[3] Palermo was besieged by land and sea by Roger in the west and Guiscard in the east with his Calabrians and Apulians.

[4] The other sources do not speak of either the naval battle or the assistance of African Muslims, almost certainly the Zirids of Mahdîyah. In the previous decade, the Sicilians had appealed to them for help to stop the progress of the Normans. However, Ayub, the son of Tamim who was installed in Palermo was forced by the ‘Sicilian faction’ to return to Africa around 1068.

[5] The capture of Palermo marked a very clear stage in the conquest of Sicily. It represented the last direct involvement of Robert Guiscard in the conquest of the island and he never returned to the island after he left in early 1072. Guiscard granted Count Roger the fiefdom of Sicily, except Palermo, Messina and the Val Demone, which were possessed jointly. Although Roger was nominally subject to his elder brother, in reality he was left to govern the island and to continue the conquest as and when he could. By 1072, the Normans had conquered about half of the island. They had displayed considerable flexibility in exploiting Muslim divisions and in granting lenient surrender terms and toleration for Muslim worship.

[6] Malaterra gives details of the role of Roger in the attack on Cassaro, the main Arab fortification.

[7] Guiscard had fourteen ladders made and in the night sent seven to Roger who placed them against the walls in the morning: Amatus and Malaterra. Guiscard left 300 soldiers in the gardens near his fleet while Roger attacked the Cassaro where the defence of the city was concentrated. Guiscard managed to get soldiers over the walls and took the new town while the defenders retreated to the old town.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book III, lines 73-166

But the favourable terms of the peace which had been concluded did not please the latter’s stepsons, [75] unable as they were to protect the Greek armies. They decided that Romanus should not return to the imperial throne.[1] When Diogenes learned that they had become his enemies, he prepared to wage civil war [80] against them, trusting in the help of the Persians. Seeing that they were unable to resist him, his stepsons tried to trick him through a treacherous peace. They sent to him carrying messages of peace twelve bishops, who were themselves ignorant of the deception, as well as Joscelyn[2], [85] for whom Romanus had many times showed his love and whom he had no hesitation in trusting as a friend. Romanus believed Joscelyn and the bishops, being reassured when they swore an oath and gave him the assurances which he sought. He believed, in vain, that he would return as emperor; however, [90] as soon as he had come to Heraclea he was seized and then blinded. Thus it was that this man of noble repute who had been emperor became a monk.[3]

The two brothers were now safe and held the reins of the empire in peace.[4] Their tyranny did not however remain unpunished. For Romanus’ son took as his allies the Armenians and Persians and deprived the empire of its eastern lands, which he ravaged with fire and sword. [100] From this time onwards the wicked Persian race began to invade the Roman Empire, slaughtering and robbing.[5] The land could not indeed have remained until now subject to imperial rule had not the Gallic race, more warlike and powerful than any other people, and encouraged by divine command, defeated the enemy and given it back its freedom. Inspired by God they wanted to open the roads to the Holy Sepulchre, [105] previously and for a long time blocked. The wretched men by whose advice this great man had been blinded were arrested, expelled from the court and made to submit to well-merited retribution. They ordered that those who had formerly punished the innocent [110] should themselves be punished for their guilt with a variety of torments.

An ambassador from Bari was sent to Constantinople and begged the emperor to aid its wretched citizens. On his order pirate ships were suitably prepared to transport grain [115] and arms [also] by which the fleet could be protected during the voyage to the city. (Hence the sailors would be freed from fear and the city from want). The emperor ordered that Joscelyn be put in command of this fleet. He had fled from Italy in fear of the duke, who hated him because he had conspired against him. [120] Joscelyn came in haste with his warships to encourage the tremulous citizens. He was already close to the city, hoping to enter it in safety during the night, when suddenly Robert’s fleet encountered the Greek fleet which had come to strengthen his enemies. [125] The duke’s ships willingly entered on a night action, thinking that this was more favourable to them than to the enemy since they knew these waters while their opponents did not. After a great deal of effort Joscelyn’s ship was defeated and captured, and he himself brought prisoner before the duke. [130] Another Greek ship was sunk, the rest just managed to escape.[6]

The Norman race had up to this point known nothing of naval warfare. But by thus returning victorious they very much enhanced their leader’s confidence, for he knew that the Greeks had been unable to carry enough help to the citizens of the town to hinder the siege. [135] At the same time, he greatly rejoiced at the novelty of this naval victory, hoping in consequence that he and the Normans might in future engage in battle at sea with more hope of success. [140] Joscelyn led an unhappy life shut up in prison for a long time; he went through much travail and his sufferings continued until the end of his life.

The town underwent its third year of siege. Finally it was overcome, worn down by many woes, but above all by hunger.[7] The leading citizen of the town was at this time Argyritzos.[8] [145] When the duke convinced him that the city must be surrendered, he did not [then] face a difficult task in overcoming the rest of its inhabitants, for the leading men were able to influence the minds of the lesser to persuade them to do as they wanted. Robert showed kindness and favour to the citizens [150] and since he always cherished those whom he had made his subjects, he himself was loved by all of them[9]. The duke returned to the townspeople most of what had been taken from them by force or ruse: [155] fields, estates and farms. He restored what had been lost, and made no impositions on the citizens, nor did he permit others to inflict burdens upon them. He now gave peace and freedom to those who had been accustomed to pay tribute to the Normans of the surrounding areas. He pitied the white hair of Stephan [160] and was unwilling to treat him as an enemy; rather he forgot that the latter had tried to have him murdered and was anxious to treat him kindly. To the surprise of many of the Greeks, when he was captured along with Bari the duke left him free and unpunished, although under surveillance. After remaining in the city for some days the conqueror ordered the Bariots to prepare arms and supplies, and to follow him to wherever they saw him go. [165] He [then] led them with his own troops to the city of Reggio.[10]


[1] Despite the defeat, Byzantine casualties were apparently relatively low. Ducas had escaped with no casualties and quickly marched back to Constantinople where he led a coup against Romanus. Bryennius also lost few men in the rout of his wing. Since the battle had not occurred until after nightfall, the Turks did not pursue the fleeing Byzantines, which probably saved most of them. The Turks did not even recapture Manzikert itself at this point. The Byzantine army regrouped and marched to Dokeia, where they were joined by Romanus when he was released a week later.

[2] Joscelyn was an important figure at Romanus’ court but was captured by Guiscard at Bari in February 1071. For him to have played a role in the betrayal of Diogenes, he must have been freed by Guiscard possibly with the Greek prisoners freed after the fall of Palermo in 1072. William of Apulia is the only source to mention his treachery.

[3] Once the capture of Diogenes was known in Constantinople, he was deposed, Eudocia exiled and Muchael VII proclaimed emperor. On being freed, Diogenes sought to reclaim the empire and assembled a strong army in Armenia including many of the Normans (but not Robert Crispin) and moved into Cappadocia before retreating to Cilicia, with the Armenian Chatchatour, catepan of Antioch in the autumn of 1072 to await support from Alp Arslan. Besieged in Adana, he surrrendered to Andronicus Ducas on good terms but was betrayed at Heraclea and blinded. He died soon after as a result.

[4] Michael VII was himself deposed in 1078 becoming a monk and then a bishop; John Ducas was exiled in 1073 becoming a monk.

[5] The usurpation of Andronicus Ducas also politically destabilised the empire and it was difficult to organise a resistance to the Turkish migrations that followed Manzikert. Within the next few decades, almost all of Asia Minor was overrun by the Seljuks.

[6] Malaterra attributed the victory and the capture of Joscelyn to Roger.

[7] By August 1068, Robert Guiscard was finally ready to move against Byzantine Apulia and to begin his most ambitious military operation: the siege of Bari. This was a difficult operation and could only be attempted when Robert had the full support of his Norman vassals. Count Roger also temporarily abandoned his conquest of Sicily to take part in the later stages of the attack on the city. Bari was a trading city with access to the sea for reinforcements and supplies from the Byzantine Empire and was strongly defended on the landward side. However, the Normans were by this time well versed in siege warfare. Bari was not prepared to surrender as, for example Reggio had been in 1060. Bari proved to be a formidable obstacle though the timing of Robert’s attack was fortuitous. By 1068, the situation on the eastern frontier of the Byzantine Empire was critical. Turkish raids had penetrated into Asia Minor and the emperor Romanus IV was determined to do something about this. The situation in Byzantine Italy was severe but it was not seen as a major priority in Constantinople. Even so, the siege of Bari lasted almost three years. Robert recruited ships and sailors from Calabria to blockade the town from the sea and he also was highly successful in exploiting divisions within Bari itself. The Byzantines made two attempts to break the blockade: in 1068 they were partially successful bringing in supplies so prolonging the siege but in 1071 the Byzantine fleet was intercepted from count Roger with ships from Sicily and defeated. The loss of this supply fleet led to Bari’s surrender on 15th April 1071. Although the city was near to starvation, Robert offered generous terms returning land seized from its inhabitants outside the walls, freeing it from tribute that had previously been paid to the Normans and refraining from imposing any new demands. It seems that the local patriciate remained largely in control of the city. Robert almost certainly had no choice but to do this. Bari was a large and prosperous town with a diversified economy that he needed to remain prosperous; coercion was not really a viable economic or political option.

[8] Argyritzos was the leader of the pro-Guiscard faction in Bari. Helped by the shortage of food, he was able to persuade the city to surrender on 15th April 1071.

[9] There is some disagreement among historians about the significance of the generous terms offered to Bari. Gay, Jules, L’Italie meridionale a l’empire byzantin depuis l’avènement de Basile Ier jusqu’a la prise de Bari par les Normandes, Paris, 1904 p. 538 argues persuasively that Guiscard sought to protect Bari against the advances of Normans already established in the area while Chalandon, F., Histoire de la domination normande en Italie et en Sicile, Paris, 1907, vol. I, p. 189 and Delarc, O., Les Normandes en Italie depuis les premières invasions jusqu’ l’avènement de S. Grégorie VII, Paris, 1883, p. 454 prefer the explanation that the tribute Bari paid to Constantinople was redistributed among the Normans.

[10] Guiscard left Bari in May 1071 and stayed in Otranto in June and July. Amatus said that he sent his fleet while he travelled by land with his cavalry.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book III, lines 1-72

In the meanwhile Michael ruled the Roman Empire together with his brother Constantine.[1]. Their rule was disastrous for the Greeks for they neglected warlike matters, preferring always to lead a life of idleness. [5] They were made prisoners by the deceitful charms of self-indulgence and a shameful laziness disgraced them. At this time the Christian people who inhabited the delightful lands of the Roman Empire fled in terror from the Turks who came from the east. [10] A large number died under the swords of the evil Turks, all the cities were taken and the conquered people served and paid tribute to them. These cowardly rulers[2] sent no troops out against them, and in consequence, by the decree of the Senate[3], their mother was married off to a distinguished warrior, [15] Romanus, [although] she, Eudocia, loved him rather for his courage than for his birth. He was called Diogenes because he had a forked beard.

On undertaking the government he left leisure to his stepsons and concerned himself with warlike matters, setting out to do battle with the Persians [20] who were raiding the unfortunate Greeks. The fortunes of this war varied; often he was the victor and put the Persians to flight, but the battles were frequently indecisive.[4] Finally he sent out innumerable counts to defend the towns that had surrendered to him as a result of the reputation for valour [25] which he had everywhere acquired. He himself remained in camp with a small number of his best troops.[5] Suddenly a huge force of Persians, led by their king, surrounded him and attempted to break into the camp. In their efforts to seize this they launched some massive assaults. The first and second of these were repulsed. [30] Eventually Romanus became anxious, realising that the camp was indefensible, and sensibly took steps, not for his own safety, but to save the lives of his men, whom he [35] saw to be gravely weakened both by the battle and by hunger. He ordered whatever money there was, and all the precious vestments and gold or silver ornaments to be scattered about the camp [40] so that if the Turks should manage to force their way in they might, on seeing these, break off the pursuit of the Greeks. The valuables were collected by the servants who had fled from the fighting - then the Greeks were forced to pass an unhappy and sleepless night.[6] At dawn the huge Persian army came and surrounded the camp. [45] Spears flew from all sides and a host of arrows filled the air. The Greeks were unable to resist, and the Turks broke down the defences and forced their way in. But more intent on plunder than cutting down the [enemy] soldiers the Persians allowed many of them to escape.[7]

[50] The lord of the Greeks was recognisable by the golden eagle which was fixed to his hauberk and shone more than other armour. He defended himself unceasingly, striking down the enemy spears with his sword. A flying arrow wounded an unprotected limb [55] and so he was finally captured, as were some of his men. After plundering the Romans’ camp the Persians led him to their own camp and gave him the seat of honour, next to their king. The latter asked him what would have happened if he had been Romanus’ prisoner. [60] The latter replied that, ‘If you had been at my mercy or that of my men I would have ordered you to be beheaded or hanged from a gallows’. The other said that he would never commit such an evil deed, but rather he wished henceforth to establish the lasting peace [65] that his ambassadors had already often requested, and that he would give his daughter to be baptised and married to the emperor’s son to ensure that the peace was more secure.[8] They concluded a treaty[9] with these conditions, and then the ruler of the Persians sent Romanus home loaded with gifts, and set all the men who had been captured free. [70] He honourably accompanied them for some distance and then gave the emperor permission to depart.[10]


[1] Michael VII Ducas or Parapinakes, was the eldest son of Constantine X Ducas and Eudocia Macrembolitissa. After a joint reign as Byzantine emperor with his brothers Andronicus and Constantine (sometimes numbered XI, but not to be confused with the actual Constantine XI) from 1067 to 1071, joined by the usurper Romanus IV in 1068, he was made sole emperor in 1071 through his uncle John Ducas after the defeat of Romanus IV by Alp Arslan. The feebleness of Michael, whose chief interest lay in trifling academic pursuits, and the avarice of his ministers, was disastrous to the empire. As the result of anarchy in the army, the Byzantines lost Bari, their last possession in Italy, to the Normans in 1071, and were forced to cede a large strip of Asia Minor which they were unable to defend against the Seljuk Turks (1074).

[2] Constantine X Ducas left three children: Constantine, Andronius and Michael. His lack of interest resulted in Eudocia, their mother playing a major role in their upbringing. During the 1060s, the Seljuk sultan Alp Arslan allowed his Turkish allies to migrate towards Armenia and Asia Minor, where they sacked cities and plundered farmland. In 1064, they destroyed the Armenian capital at Ani. Contemporaries and later historians such as Michel Attaliate held the emperors responsible for this state of affairs.

[3] The senate and the Patriarch considered the gravity of the cituation and married Eudocia to the general Romanus Diogenes, a Cappadocian aristocrat who was young, brave and attractive on 1st January 1068.

[4] Romanus fought campaigns against the Turks in 1068, 1069 and 1070. In 1068, Romanus IV led an expedition against them, but his slow-moving infantry could not catch the speedy Turkish cavalry, although he was able to capture the city of Hierapolis. In 1070, Romanus led an expedition towards Manzikert, a city in eastern Turkey‘s province of Muş, now known as Malazgirt, a Byzantine fortress that had been captured by the Seljuks. He offered a treaty with Arslan: Romanus would give back Hierapolis if Arslan gave up the siege of Edessa. Romanus threatened war if Arslan did not comply, and prepared his troops anyway, expecting the sultan to decline his offer, which he did.

[5] Accompanying Romanus was Andronicus Ducas, an odd choice as Ducas was an old enemy of the emperor. Romanus left his best general, Nicephorus Botaniates, at home, suspecting his loyalties (although he was certainly more loyal than Ducas). The army consisted of about 5000 Byzantine troops from the western provinces, and probably about the same number from the eastern provinces; 500 French mercenaries under Roussel de Bailleul; some Turkish, Bulgarian, and Pecheneg mercenaries; infantry under the duke of Antioch; a contingent of Armenian troops; and some (but not all) of the Varangian Guard. Turkish sources give the number of troops to be closer to 200,000. Other sources estimate them to be around 40,000. The march across Asia Minor was long and difficult, the Byzantine population also suffered some plundering by Romanus’ German mercenaries, whom he was forced to dismiss. The expedition first rested at Sebasteia on the Halys, and reached Theodosopolis in June 1071. There, some of his generals suggested continuing the march into Seljuk territory and catching Arslan before he was ready. Some of the other generals, including Nicephorus Bryennius, suggested they wait there and fortify their position. Eventually, it was decided to continue the march. Thinking that Alp Arslan was either further away or not coming at all, Romanus marched towards Lake Van expecting to retake Manzikert rather quickly, as well as the nearby fortress of Khliat if possible. However, Arslan was actually in Armenia, with 30 000 cavalry from Aleppo, Mosul, and his other allies. Arslan’s spies knew exactly where Romanus was, while Romanus was completely unaware of his opponent’s movements. Romanus ordered his general John Tarchaneiotes to take some of the Byzantine troops and Varangians and accompany the Pechenegs and French to Khliat, while Romanus and the rest of the army marched to Manzikert. This probably split the forces in half, about 20,000 men each. Although it is unknown precisely what happened to Tarchaneiotes and his half of the army after this, they apparently caught sight of the Seljuks and fled, as they later appeared at Melitene and did not take part in the battle.

[6] William of Apulia is the only source for this stratagem.

[7] Romanus was unaware of the loss of Tarchaneiotes and continued to Manzikert, which he easily captured on August 23rd. The next day, some foraging parties under Bryennius discovered the Seljuk force and were forced to retreat back to Manzikert. The Armenian general Basilaces was sent out with some cavalry, as Romanus did not believe this was Arslan’s full army; the cavalry was destroyed and Basilaces taken prisoner. Romanus drew up his troops into formation and sent the left wing out under Bryennius, who was almost surrounded by the quickly approaching Turks and was forced to retreat once more. The Turks hid among the nearby hills for the night, making it nearly impossible for Romanus to send a counterattack. On August 25th, some of Romanus’ Turkish mercenaries came into contact with their Seljuk relatives and deserted. Romanus then rejected a Seljuk embassy and attempted to recall Tarchaneiotes, who was of course no longer in the area. There were no engagements that day, but on August 26th, the Byzantine army gathered itself into a proper battle formation and began to march on the Turkish positions, with the left wing under Bryennius, the right wing under Theodore Alyates, and the centre under the emperor. Andronicus Ducas led the reserve forces in the rear. The Seljuks were organised into a crescent formation about four kilometres away, with Arslan observing events from a safe distance. Seljuk archers attacked the Byzantines as they drew closer; the centre of their crescent continually moved backwards while the wings moved to surround the Byzantine troops. The Byzantines held off the arrow attacks and captured Arslan’s camp by the end of the afternoon. However, the right and left wings, where the arrows did most of their damage, almost broke up when individual units tried to force the Seljuks into a pitched battle; the Seljuk cavalry simply fled when challenged. With the Seljuks avoiding battle, Romanus was forced to order a withdrawal by the time night fell. However, the right wing misunderstood the order, and Ducas, as an enemy of Romanus, deliberately ignored the emperor and marched back to the camp outside Manzikert, rather than covering the emperor’s retreat. Now that the Byzantines were thoroughly confused, the Seljuks seized the opportunity and attacked. The Byzantine right wing was routed; the left under Bryennius held out a little longer but was also soon routed. Romanus was wounded and taken prisoner when the Seljuks discovered him.

[8] Three sons of Romanus are known: Constantine, from his first marriage died in 1073 and Leo and Nicephorus were sons from his marriage to Eudocia. None of the Greek chroniclers speak of a matrimonial alliance. There may be good reasons for this since Nicephorus led a rebellion against Alexius Comnenus in 1093 or 1094 and in 1095 an imposter claiming to be Constantine, the son of Diogenes led a rebellion with the Coumans. Ten years later, when Bohemond visited France, he was accompanied by a pretender who claimed to be the son of Diogenes: in Orderic Vitalis, book xii but not mentioned in the Vita Ludovici Grossi, chapter ix.

[9] The treaty consisted of the freeing of prisoners, the payment of tribute, an alliance and the ceding of Manzikert, Edessa, Manbig and Antioch to the sultan.

[10] Manzikert came to be seen as a disaster for the Empire; later sources greatly exaggerate the numbers of troops and the numbers of casualties. Byzantine historians often looked back and lament the ‘disaster’ of that day, pinpointing it as the moment the decline of the Empire began. It was not, however, an immediate disaster; most units survived intact and were fighting in the Balkans or elsewhere in Asia Minor within a few months. On the other hand, the defeat showed the Seljuks that the Byzantines were not invincible. Nevertheless, in hindsight historians are practically unanimous in dating the decline of Byzantine fortunes to this battle. It is also considered one of the root causes for the later Crusades: the West saw Manzikert as a signal that Byzantium was no longer capable of being the protector of Eastern Christianity.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book III, commentary

Book III covers the decade between 1068 and 1078. William of Apulia interrupts his narrative of the siege of Bari with a resumé of the reign of the Byzantine emperor Romanus IV Diogenes and the battle of Manziket in 1071.[1] His account shows a detailed reading of contemporary Byzantine sources. He includes details of the role of the Norman Joscelyn in the capture of Romanus by the ambassador of John Ducas and of the alliance between Romanus and the Turks and Armenians (III: 94-99). The narrative then returns to the siege of Bari and its eventual surrender in 1071 (III: 111-162).

In his account of the expedition to Sicily and the siege of Palmermo in 1073 (III: 163-343), William of Apulia provides detail of the fighting (III: 215-295), the participation of prisoners from Bari (III: 163, 187 and 322), the attempt by a Muslim fleet from Africa to assist the Arabs in Sicily (III: 225-228) and the installation of a Norman emir in Palermo (III: 342). What is neglected is the role played by count Roger, Guiscard’s brother in this campaign and his central role in the taking of the city, something that Geoffrey Malaterra considers in far more detail.

The Gesta is a crucial source for the rebellion by Normans against Guiscard in 1073 and especially 1078 (III: 354-411). Neither Amatus nor Malaterra describe events in Calabria or the rebellion in 1071 during the siege of Palermo. William provides several possible reasons for discontent against Guiscard’s rule especially the position of Richard, the young son of Geoffrey of Tarento that led to the revolt of Peter II of Trani in 1073. For the 1078 rebellion, William is the principal source especially as Amatus’ narrative ends in May 1078 and Malaterra makes only a few comments on Calabrian affairs (III: 509-687). He alone mentions that Baldwin and Henry de Monte Santa’Angelo were among the conspirators who rebelled against Roger Borsa and that Abelard went into exile in Greece under Alexius Comnenus. He deals with the duplicity of Argyritzos who first helped Guiscard capture Bari in 1071 only to betray him and deliver it to Abelard. His account of the siege of Salerno in 1076 roughly parallels that of Amatus though it is likely that the two sources were independent of each other.


[1] Mathieu, M., ‘Une source négligée de la batille de Mantzikert: Les Gesta Roberti Wiscardi de Guillaume d’Apulia’, Byzantion, vol. xx, (1950), pp. 89-103 considers this issue.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book II, lines 420-575

As his reputation for power and bravery grew, he sent envoys who carried his words to the excellent Gisulf, son of Guaimar, requesting marriage with his noble sister, [420] for he then lacked a spouse, having repudiated his first wife because of consanguinity.[1] From her had been born Bohemond, a mighty offspring, who was later to become powerful and be distinguished for his courage. To begin with Gisulf disdained Robert’s message, [425] not that he could marry his sister to a greater or nobler man, but because the Gauls seemed to him a race fierce and barbarous, cruel and inhuman in mind, and the repudiation of his first wife imposed a break before one gave a second! [430] Finally the prince assented, and gave his elder sister in marriage to you, Duke Robert. She was called Sichelgaita[2], and the younger, Gaitelgrima. Gaitelgrima afterwards married his nephew Jordan, the Prince of Capua[3], [435] who equalled in his virtues both the duke and his father. A marriage of such grandeur much augmented Robert’s noble reputation, and people who had previously had to be constrained to serve him now rendered to him the obedience due to his ancestors. [440] For the Lombard people knew that Italy had been subject to his wife’s grandfathers and great-grandfathers. She gave him three sons and five daughters[4], these children of both sexes will in the future distinguish themselves.[5]

[445] Robert’s glory, which had been so greatly increased, began to invite not a little envy, where there should instead have been praise. His virtues were envied by those elected counts by the people[6], who numbered twice six, and they wickedly conspired together to murder him when they could find a suitable opportunity. [450] The principal authors of these conspiracies were Geoffrey[7], Joscelyn[8] and Abelard son of Humphrey[9], who sought his father’s heritage[10]. [455] The duke was informed of this plot made by the counts and declared war - he was mightily enraged against them. Some he captured, others he exiled, and on some he inflicted various bodily punishments. Fearing his anger Joscelyn fled to the Greeks. Geoffrey fled in stupefaction to take refuge in the castrum of Montepeloso. [460] Unable to take this fortress by force of arms, the duke captured it by a trick; he corrupted by his blandishments the fortress’s custodian, Godfrey, giving him bribes and promising him more, including a fortress more powerful than the one he had. [465] The lordship of Montepeloso did not belong to Godfrey alone; he had conceded half of it to Geoffrey. But the duke had promised him full lordship over a nobler fortress, Uggiano. Desiring to rule alone over this, he advised Robert to raise the siege and feign a retreat; [470] but as soon as he knew Geoffrey to be absent to return and he would enter the fortress in safety with the keys which he had been given. Then he would confer Uggiano upon him. Thus Godfrey handed over this fortress to him by a trick, and so he received Uggiano, but who would trust him thereafter? [475] All the people of Italy called him traitor. So the astute and prudent duke would often conquer by stratagem what he could not overcome by force of arms.

His enemies entirely subdued and all their fortresses captured[11], he prepared to besiege the people of Bari.[12] [480] There was no city in Apulia that exceeded the affluence of Bari. He besieged it, wealthy and strongly-defended, that by overcoming the rulers of so great a city he might therefore terrify and subject the lesser towns, for of all the cities along the Apulian coast Bari was the greatest. [485] The duke furnished his camp with soldiers and filled the sea with ships brought by the Calabrians. The citizens begged the help of the holy empire; those who were sworn [to help them?] along with the citizens sent envoys there, they all jointly implored imperial assistance. [490] The duke ordered the citizens to hand over to him the house of Argyrus[13]. Since he knew that it was higher than the neighbouring houses, Robert hoped that by obtaining it and from its elevation he might control the whole city. The Bariots made a disparaging response to the duke.

[495] He attacked the city bravely. The inhabitants, by no means reluctant to fight it out, resisted valiantly. He carefully prepared mantlets by the gates under the protection of which he placed armed men in ambush; he prepared a wooden tower to overtop the walls, [500] on each side of which he placed stone-throwers, along with every sort of siege engine which might knock down the walls. Nevertheless the citizens continued to defend their city, nor did they simply remain inside their defences, but went outside the walls to fight the duke. [505] They put his soldiers to flight and their blows cast them down. As is the custom in war, they made the enemy flee and [in turn] fled from the enemy, attacked and were attacked and returning to the fray struck out and were struck. Fighting like two wild boars with their projecting tusks, they covered one another with the saliva flowing from their mouths, [510] sharpening their tusks to inflict deeper wounds, each striking sharp and heavy blows on the other’s body, now being injured in the foot, now in the side, both resisting fiercely and neither willing to give way, until eventually one of the boars, tired, wounded and crying out, [515] shows that it wants to flee and retires defeated.

The Normans charged fiercely and no less fiercely did the citizens resist. Various machines were used against the walls, to knock them down and open up a breach, since entry was impossible along the narrow causeway, with sea on both sides (Bari is not an island). [520] It was on this flank that the duke had planted his tents. On the other side he filled the sea with ships, to prevent the Bariot ships leaving. He built a harbour for his ships, [525] and a bridge on which a tower was placed, so that it was impossible for the inhabitants to make a sortie. The Norman fleet kept the harbour safe. However the citizens of Bari captured the tower and demolished most of the maritime bridge. [530] The Bariots protected their city by land and sea. Afterwards, when Robert despaired of taking the walls by assault, he started to make extravagant promises to the nobles of the place, who formed the most prominent and [535] powerful party in the city. He felt that once he had won over the more important men, he would be able also to sway the lesser with promises and bribes. He also often made threats, to strike terror into the citizens, working in every possible way to secure the surrender of the city which he so greatly desired to capture.

[540] A rumour arose that Joscelyn was sailing to the help of the city with an imperial fleet. The cunning duke sent out scouts to capture him. Stephen, called Pateranos[14], [545] had been appointed governor by imperial edict, a loyal and free-spending man, worthy to be praised in every way except that he tried to have the duke murdered. There was in Bari a knight from foreign parts [550] on whom the duke had previously inflicted a grave affront, a fickle man, daring and savage, ready for every evil. Stephen ordered him to trick his way into the duke’s camp, catch the duke by surprise at night and stab him to death. He promised him a great deal of gold if he should kill the duke. [555] Anxious for the reward and remembering the injury he had received, the knight went at night, inspected the camp thoroughly, and seeing nothing to hinder him, reached Duke Robert’s quarters, which had been roofed with thatch and walled with branches to be protected from the winter’s cold. [560] It was evening and the duke was at dinner. He saw the chair on which the duke was sitting down to eat his dinner, and parting the fronds he flung his spear towards him. But Robert, feeling an abundance of phlegm in his mouth, had ducked his head under the table. [565] The spear’s target was empty, and the blow it struck was fruitless. The knight raced away. Rumour of the duke’s death spread throughout the city. The citizens rejoiced and the noise of the people’s celebrations rose to the heavens. But while they were shouting the duke arrived, [570] demonstrating that he was safe and well, and he shouted to the citizens that their carolling was in vain. As his voice rang out, the noise died down and his words put an end to their rejoicing!


[1] This should not be ignored as the reason for the repudiation though one may rather cynically suggest that political considerations also played a part in Robert’s decision. Amatus suggested (a little time afterwards) that Robert had become increasingly conscious of the sinfulness of the union. It is also possible that the clerical reform movement, established in the mid-1040s, was making some headway in southern Italy especially in its objective of improving the morality of the laity. The enforcement of Church’s rules on marriage was part of this process. Despite this, Alberada and Guiscard remained on relatively good terms and their son Bohemond was later to join his father in the attacks on the Byzantine Empire.

[2] Useful material on Sichelgaita includes: Eads, Valerie, ‘Sichelgaita of Salerno: Amazon or Trophy Wife?’, Journal of Medieval Military History, vol. 3, (2005), Skinner, Patricia, ‘‘Halt! Be Men!’: Sikelgaita of Salerno, Gender and the Norman Conquest of Southern Italy’, in Stafford, Pauline and Mulder-Baker, Anneke B., (eds.), Gendering the Middle Ages, (Basil Blackwell), 2001, pp. 112-135. Apicella, Dorotea Memoli, Sichelgaita tra longobardi e normanni, Salerno, 1997 is a creative combination of invention and evidence.

[3] On his death on 5th April 1078, Jordan I of Capua left a widow and three young children.

[4] The three sons were Roger Borsa, Guy and Robert; Chalandon counted seven daughters rather than William of Apulia’s five.

[5] The final legitimisation of both Richard of Capua and Robert Guiscard came with their recognition by the Papacy. In the latter months of 1058 Robert married Sichelgaita, the sister of Gisulf II of Salerno. The marriage was politically expedient and provided a degree of acceptance in the eyes of the Lombards as well as the Normans. It benefited Salerno as Robert now provided protection against the aggression of Richard of Capua on the northern borders of the principality. What made Guiscard’s marriage different from previous Lombard-Norman marriages was that he was the first to marry a legitimate daughter of an actual prince whose family had ruled Salerno since 983. When he eventually conquered Salerno in 1076, this gave him and more especially Roger Borsa, his son by Sichelgaita a claim to rule they would otherwise not have had.

[6] Advances were made in Apulia by other Norman lords in the early 1060s. In 1063, Godfrey, a son of count Peter of Andria (one of the ‘sons of Amicus’ kin-group) captured Taranto, one of the main Apulian ports. The following year, the duke’s nephew Robert of Montescaglioso took Matera and the nearby town of Montepeloso. These victories ended the Byzantine presence on the Apulia-Lucania border. At the other end of Apulia, Robert’s brother Geoffrey and after his death his son Robert (who became known as the count of Loritello) pushed northwards across the Biferno and Trigno rivers into the Abruzzi. By 1064, Robert’s attacks had begun to destabilise the lands of the abbey of St Clement of Casauria in the Percara valley. Guiscard had appeared briefly in the area to help his brother in 1060-61 but after this the success of the other Normans in Apulia were carried out independently of the duke. Robert’s brother William and his allies attacked the principality of Salerno and in 1067 he was excommunicated, along with Guimund des Moulins and Turgisius of Rota for their attacks on the property of the archbishop of Salerno.

[7] Geoffrey of Conversano was the son of Guiscard’s sister.

[8] Joscelyn was one of the family of Amicus and fled to Constantinople after the failure of the conspiracy.

[9] Abelard accused Guiscard of having disinherited him, with some justification. Interestingly, after the rebellion Guisacrd restored some of his land to him.

[10] In 1066, Robert was finally able to devote his attention to Apulia, retaking Vieste and also Otranto. However, the Byzantines were successful in stirring up and financing a widespread revolt among the Normans in Apulia in 1067-1068 including Robert’s nephews Geoffrey of Conversano and Abelard. Guiscard was in Calabria when news of the revolt reached him. Acting quickly, he caught the rebels before they were ready and suppressed the revolt in the autumn of 1067 and spring of 1068.

[11] Besides the Byzantine territories, to the south, Guiscard’s attention was drawn to the north of his territories, next to Campania and the Abruzzes, where he was faced with a most dangerous rival, occasionally an ally but more often an enemy, Richard of Aversa, who, since he had become prince of Capua in 1062 had launched attacks against the Lombard territories coveted by Robert Guiscard. Richard of Aversa strengthened his authority by acquiring the duchy of Atenulf of Gaeta and the county of Aquino in 1063. Richard’s authority in the north of the principality was not finally secured until 1065 despite his alliance with the abbey of Montecassino that profited considerably from the lands of the Lombards who had rebelled in 1063. The Normans did not have everything their own way and there was a brief Byzantine counter offensive in the mid-1060s. Brindisi was recaptured at some point after 1062 and it is probable that Vieste on the Gargano peninsula was retaken in 1065-66. Whether these advances were linked to the arrival of a contingent of the Varangian guard at Bari in 1066 is debatable but the Byzantine revival was short-lived.

[12] By August 1068, Robert Guiscard was finally ready to move against Byzantine Apulia and to begin his most ambitious military operation: the siege of Bari. This was a difficult operation and could only be attempted when Robert had the full support of his Norman vassals. Count Roger also temporarily abandoned his conquest of Sicily to take part in the later stages of the attack on the city. Bari was a trading city with access to the sea for reinforcements and supplies from the Byzantine Empire and was strongly defended on the landward side. However, the Normans were by this time well versed in siege warfare. Bari was not prepared to surrender as, for example Reggio had been in 1060 and proved to be a formidable obstacle though the timing of Robert’s attack was fortuitous. By 1068, the situation on the eastern frontier of the Byzantine Empire was critical. Turkish raids had penetrated into Asia Minor and the emperor Romanus IV was determined to do something about this. The situation in Byzantine Italy was severe but it was not seen as a major priority in Constantinople. Even so, the siege of Bari lasted almost three years. Robert recruited ships and sailors from Calabria to blockade the town from the sea and he also was highly successful in exploiting divisions within Bari itself. The Byzantines made two attempts to break the blockade: in 1068 they were partially successful bringing in supplies so prolonging the siege but in 1071 the Byzantine fleet was intercepted from count Roger with ships from Sicily and defeated. The loss of this supply fleet led to Bari’s surrender on 16th April 1071. Although the city was near to starvation, Robert offered generous terms returning land seized from its inhabitants outside the walls, freeing it from tribute that had previously been paid to the Normans and refraining from imposing any new demands. It seems that the local patriciate remained largely in control of the city. Robert almost certainly had no choice but to do this. Bari was a large and prosperous town with a diversified economy that he needed to remain prosperous; coercion was not really a viable economic or political option.

[13] No other contemporary source mentioned this.

[14] Stephen Patrianos had already been to Bari in 1069 but this expedition was hit by a storm off Monopoli; twelve ships were lost and the remainder fell into Norman hands.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book II, lines 265-420

The news of this great Norman victory greatly alarmed Argyrus, [270] for he realised that neither trickery nor fighting could accomplish what the emperor had ordered him to do, to persuade or force the Franks to leave Italy. The forces he had at his disposal were not large enough to drive them out by force, nor was Argyrus able to persuade them to seek other lands through promises or influence them through bribes. [275] Thinking on this, he left the city of Bari and sailed off to his lord. On the latter’s order he recounted how this fierce people had responded and what deeds they had accomplished in the recent battle against the Germans. [280] Constantine now withdrew his favour from Argyrus, who ceased to be, as he had once been, the intimate counsellor of the emperor. He went into exile and for a long time lived in hardship; it is said that he died weighed down by physical suffering.[1]

Victory greatly raised the spirits of the Normans. [285] Now no Apulian city remained in rebellion against them. All submitted and paid tribute. Count Humphrey then took revenge for the murder of his brother. He savagely punished all those who had been involved; he mutilated some, put others to the sword, and hanged many. Remembering Drogo’s death, he refused to grant mercy to anyone. [290] The deep and burning grief that had descended upon him with his brother’s murder remained strong, to the disadvantage of all. He subdued many cities. The inhabitants of Troia paid tribute to the count; [295] those of Bari, Trani, Venosa, Otranto and the city of Acerenza obeyed him.[2]

He granted Calabria to his brother Robert, for him to conquer. [300] Robert[3] was a young man inured to hard work, prudent and ingenious, ready to turn his hand to anything that needed doing, always seeking advancement and rejoicing in honour and praise. He was just as ready to seek success by stratagem as by force if this was necessary, because a sharp mind can often achieve what violence cannot accomplish. [305] He was distinguished by his eloquence and when consulted he gave a speedy and most pertinent reply. If he was asked for advice he knew how to give it wisely. He rejoiced in the grant of the land of the Calabrians. He had previously recruited for himself a number of knights, [310] plundering where he could far and wide, but especially in those regions that belonged to his brother. He shared what had been captured equally among all his followers, cherishing each of them equally and himself being cherished by all. Humphrey had him arrested while they were dining together. [315] Robert wanted to hurl himself on his brother, sword in hand, but Joscelyn grabbed him and prevented this. He was consigned to the guards, but his brother released him after a little while, granted him the Calabrian region with its cities and castra, and furnished him with a force of knights.[4]

[320] Desiring to conquer this region he showed himself affectionate towards all, no lord had ever shown himself more affable or humble. The name of the Norman people was everywhere renowned. But the Calabrians, who had not experienced their valour before, were terrified by the arrival of such a fierce leader. Supported by no small number of soldiers, [325] Robert ordered them to burn, pillage and ravage all those lands which he had invaded and to do all they could to instil terror in the inhabitants. He allowed his brother’s knights [330] to return home and remained with a less numerous but very warlike force which continued to vex the Calabrians.[5]

While he plundered here and their, he was unable to capture any castrum or city, and so he resorted to a stratagem to enter a certain place, which was very difficult of access since there were many inhabitants, and the monastic community which was living there would allow no stranger to enter. [335] The cunning [Robert] thought up an ingenious trick.[6] He told his people to announce that one of their numbers had died. The latter was placed on a bier as though he was dead, [340] and on Robert’s order was covered with a silk cloth which concealed his face (as it is the custom of Normans to cover bodies). Swords were hidden on the bier under the ‘body’s’ back. [345] The ‘body’ was carried to the entrance of the monastery to be buried there, and this pretended death deceived those who could not be taken in by living men. While a simple funeral service was being conducted the man who was about to buried suddenly sprang up; his companions seized their swords and threw themselves on the inhabitants of the place who had been deceived by this ruse. [350] What could those stupid people do? They could neither fight nor flee, and all were captured. Thus, Robert, you placed your first garrison in a fortress! He did not however destroy the monastery, nor did he expel the monastic community from it. [355] Robert gathered a very powerful force in this castrum, and became even more beloved by his men since he was both mighty in war and wise in counsel. He was called the count of this region, [360] and considered as such especially by those who were accompanied by their own following of knights. One of these was called Torsten, another Hareng, and [there was] the warlike Roger[7]. To these he gave towns in the area which had been conceded to him.

At this time Humphrey, Prince of Apulia, fell ill and ordered his brother to come quickly to him. Robert hastened there. [365] When he saw his brother ill, he cried with compassion. For the sick man the arrival of his brother was a great consolation. He asked him to be the ruler of his territories after his death, and to be the protector of his young son who was not yet of an age to rule. [370] His anxious brother promised faithfully to execute all his wishes.[8] The sick man could not recover the health of his limbs. Humphrey died. All Apulia cried, lamenting the death of a father, [375] He, the father of his country, had ruled peacefully and benignly; honesty had graced his life. He had never sought to oppress his people under a cruel tyranny. Loving justice he had preferred to spare many guilty men rather than inflict punishment. He was buried next to those of his brothers who had died [380] before him at the monastery of Venosa.

After celebrating his funeral ceremonies Robert returned to Calabria.[9] He immediately besieged the city of Cariati, that by its capture he might terrify the other cities.[10] Then he learnt of the arrival of Pope Nicholas II[11]; [385] he abandoned the siege [himself] along with only a small escort, leaving there the greater part of his cavalry. He went to Melfi[12], and there the pope was received with great honour. He had come to this region to deal with ecclesiastical affairs. [390]For the priests, levites and all the clergy of this area were openly joining themselves in marriage. The pope celebrated a council there, and with the assent of a hundred prelates, whom he had called to that synod, he exhorted priests and ministers of the altar to arm themselves with chastity; [395] he told them and [indeed] ordered them to be the husbands of the church, since it is unlawful for priests to be addicted to indulgence. He thus drove away from those parts all the wives of priests, threatening those who disobeyed with anathema. [400] At the end of the synod and on the request of many, Pope Nicholas gave to Robert the ducal honour. Alone among the counts he received the ducal title. He swore an oath to be faithful to the pope. [405] Thus Calabria and all Apulia were conceded to him, and rule over the people of his native land in Italy.[13]

The pope went back to Rome, the duke, with a large force of cavalry, returned to the siege of Cariati, where the bulk of his horsemen who had been left before it had faithfully remained. The people of Cariati, discouraged by the return of the duke, [410] were unable to resist, and surrendered themselves and their city to him. These people were the first to call him duke and to salute him with the ducal title in Calabria. Then he went on to other places. Mighty Rossano, warlike Cosenza and then wealthy Gerace surrendered to him, and so nearly [415] the whole of Calabria was made subject to him.


[1] In 1054, the emperor Constantine imprisoned the wife and son of Argyrus because of the part that he believed Argyrus had in the schism. The patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius was a personal enemy of Arhyrus and undoubtedly played a significant part in the emperor’s decision. However, there is no evidence that he returned to Constantinople immediately after the battle and it is likely that this did not occur until some time between 1055 and 1058. His death occurred during the 1060s, though there is no evidence to support Carabellese that this took place in 1068.

[2] The Normans easily imposed their authority over much of southern Italy. An early success was the capture of Conversano, twenty miles south-east of Bari in 1054 though generally the Normans were content to exact tribute from the more strongly defended Apulian towns like Bari, Trani, Otranto and Acerenza. After Leo’s death Humphrey occupied Benevento in the north but, though he besieged the city he was unable to capture it. Capua, concerned by Norman attacks on Benevento restored Pandulf III in January 1056. William of Apulia conflated events at this point: Troia was taken by Humphrey in 1046, Otranto in 1055 (though it was retaken by the Greeks in 1060, then retaken by Georffrey of Traneto in 1064 and finally by Guiscard in 1068); Acerenza was taken in 1061 according to the Annales of Lupus Protospatharius.

[3] Taviani-Carozzi, Huguette, La terreur du monde, Paris, 1996 is the most accessible biography of Robert Guiscard.

[4] This is an early indication of tensions within the Hauteville family and rebellion within the family and by other Normans against Guiscard forms an important theme in the remainder of the poem. Guiscard is best seen as a warlord at this time but, as his power and authority increased after Humphrey died in 1057, he never fully made the transition from warlord into legitimate ruler. His position always relied on brute force rather than effective government.

[5] The most spectacular advances were made by Robert Guiscard in the south, finally conquering Calabria with the taking of Reggio in 1060. By 1056, he had taken several of the more important places in northern Calabria: Bisignano, Martirano and Cosenza though he probably only held the region north of the Val di Crati. After Humphrey’s death in early 1057, Guiscard succeeded him as overall leader of the Apulian Normans and this further enhanced his military strength. He also had the help of his youngest brother Roger who had arrived in Italy at about this time. In the late spring or early summer of 1057, Robert and probably Roger advanced as far as Squillace, half-way down Calabria where the peninsula is at its narrowest and then across to Reggio, the capital of Byzantine Calabria at its extreme tip. On his return from ths essentially reconnaissance expedition, Nicastro and Maida, town on the south-west edge of the Sila Mountains submitted to him. At this point, Robert had to return to Apulia to deal with a challenge from his old rival County Peter son of Amicus. In his absence, Roger forced the inhabitants of the Val di Saline in central Calabria into submission and fortified a base near Nicefora. Robert returned in the autumn of 1057 (though the chronology is far from certain) and launched a more serious attack on Reggio.but poor planning forced a retreat. However, his determination to bring Calabria under his control is clear in his remaining at Maida over the winter of 1057-1058. Hervé-Commereuc, Catherine, ‘Les Normands en Calabre’, ibid, Les Normands en Méditerraneé, pp. 77-88 is invaluable on what can be seen as the ‘forgotten’ conquest.

[6] Here William of Apulia is inspired by the Norman tradition of the taking of Luna by the Viking Hastings contained in Dudo of St Quentin around 1015 and William of Jumieges in the early 1070s.

[7] The Roger refered to here is probably Guiscard’s brother who helped him with the conquest of Calabria.

[8] Humphrey died in 1057 and Guiscard was then elected count of Apulia.

[9] In addition, the spring of 1058 saw a serious famine in parts of Calabria caused partly by the Norman attacks and partly by a prolonged drought. Malattera’s account is graphic and not exaggerated. Guiscard’s problems in Apulia, his dispute with Roger and his marriage to Sichelgaita of Salerno in the second half of 1058, prevented further advance in Calabria. Given these circumstance, it is not surprising that Robert gave way in his dispute with Roger and promised to give him half of Calabria (the southern half that was as yet unconquered). He did give Roger the base at Mileta and from here Roger advanced aggressively south in early 1059 crushing a counter-attack by the governor of Gerace and the bishop of Cassano. In late 1059, or more probably early 1060 Guiscard brought substantial reinforcements and the two brothers besieged and captured Reggio and Squillace. Calabria was now more or less under Norman control.

[10] Why did Calabria fall under Norman control so quickly in the late 1050s? This can be attributed to a number of factors. The defenders lacked outside support. There were still contacts between Byzantine Calabria and Constantinople in the 1050s but the internal problems in the empire and attacks from the Pechenegs and the Turks meant there was only minimal military support available for Italy. There were few attempts to fight the Normans in the open and the one attempt in 1059 ended disastrously. Norman tactics, made essential by the limited number of troops available to them before 1060 secured the surrender of towns and strongpoints by destroying the crops of the inhabitants. These were especially effective given the mountainous nature of Calabria where cultivatable land was in short supply. The Normans also allowed remarkable lenient terms for surrender. In central Calabria, the local Greek patriciate was left in place. Garrisons were introduced into key locations from the start but in less sensitive areas the process was slower: Cosenza, for example, did not have a Norman garrison until 1091. Tribute in return for peace was a price worth paying for many Calabrians.

[11] The most useful material on Nicholas II is to be found in Clavel, Le Pape Nicolas II, Lyons, 1906; Delarc, O., ‘Le Pontificat de Nicoles II’ in Revue des Questions Historiques, vol, xl, (1886), pp. 341-402 and Mann, H. R., The Lives of the Popes in the Middle Ages, vol. vi, St. Louis, 1910, pp. 226-260.

[12] The authority of the German emperors had never been welcomed in Mezzogiorno. Robert sought help from the papacy, thinking that despite Civitate in 1053, the time was right for a compromise. Fortunately political circumstances were favourable at this time. Pope Victor II (1055-1057) and Stephen IX (1057-1958) were not well disposed towards the Normans since both had been closely associated with Leo IX’s project in 1053. However, on Stephen’s death in March 1058, the Romans chose one pope (Benedict X) and the reformers another (Nicholas II). Nicholas was quickly established in Rome but he needed support to maintain his position. In the spring of 1059, Richard of Capua was persuaded to send 300 knights to support Nicholas and captured his rival to the papal throne. The project was actively supported by the diplomacy of the abbot of Montecassino, Desiderius, who became Pope Victor III, in 1086. At the synod of Melfi, in 1059, Pope Nicholas II invested Guiscard with the title of duke as well as confirming his right to his possessions in Apulia and Calabria. Furthermore, Sicily under the domination of the Muslims was promised to the Normans, who were assigned to seize it and retain it under the authority of the Holy See. Richard of Aversa was recognised as prince of Capua by the Pope. This was a decisive turning point for Norman authority in southern Italy from now on their legitimacy could not be questioned.

[13] Robert Guiscard’s position was considerably strengthened by the Melfi agreement. He decided to intensify the conquest of the whole of Mezzogiorno while controlling potential rebellion by other Norman barons (for example, Robert of Montescaglioso, Geoffrey of Conversano and Peter of Trani). In 1060, he captured Troia, the only town of any size in the Capitanata that was already paying tribute to the Normans. It became the centre of ducal authority. A year later, he captured Acerenza though it is unclear from whom. The ways in which Guiscard’s authority in Apulia developed during the 1060s is not covered particularly well in the chronicle. William of Apulia’s poem ignores events in Apulia between the synod of Melfi and the beginnings of the siege of Bari (1059-1068) and Amatus of Montecassino has only a little to say about Apulia but is more than usually disorganised. Historians have to rely on the annalistic sources and they are especially cryptic for this decade.