Saturday, 10 October 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book I, lines 1-55

After it pleased God who orders the seasons as well as kingdoms that the shores of Apulia[1], for so long possessed by the Greeks, should no longer be occupied by them, the people of the Normans, distinguished by their warlike knights, should enter and rule Italy, after expelling the Greeks. In the language of their native country the wind that carried them from the northern [boreas region] regions from which they have departed to seek the frontiers of Italy is called ‘north’, and the word ‘man’ is used among them to signify homo; thus they are called ‘Normans’, that is ‘men of the north wind’ [homines boreales].

[10] Some of these men had climbed to the summit of Monte Gargano[2], to you, Michael the Archangel[3], to fulfil a vow that they had made. There they saw a man clad in the Greek manner, called Melus[4]. They were amazed at the peculiar costume of this stranger, one which they had never seen before, with his head tied up in a bonnet wrapped around it. On seeing him they asked who he was and where he came from. He replied that he was a Lombard, a citizen of noble birth from Bari, [20] and that he had been forced to flee from his native land by the cruelty of the Greeks. When the Gauls sympathised with his fate he said, ‘If I had the help of some of your people, it would be easy for me to return, provided that you were willing’. Indeed he assured them that with their help the Greeks could rapidly and with no great effort be put to flight. They promised him that they would swiftly provide this help, along with others from their country, to which they were about to return.[5]

[30] So after they had returned to their native land, they immediately started to encourage their relatives to come with them to Italy. They talked of the fertility of Apulia and of the cowardice of those who lived there[6]. They advised them to carry with them only what was necessary for the journey; for they promised that once there they would find a wise patron, under whose leadership they would gain an easy victory over the Greeks. By such means they persuaded many to go; some because they possessed little or no wealth, others because they wished to make the great fortune they had greater still. All of them were greedy for gain.[7] They started their journey, each of them carrying what supplies they felt necessary, so far as was possible, for the road they were travelling. [40] After the party of Normans had passed through Rome, unarmed, they made a halt in Campania, worn out by the rigours of their journey. The news of the Normans’ arrival spread quickly in Italy. When Melus learned that the Gauls had arrived there he hurried to them. He gave them the arms that they lacked and then ordered them to follow him.

At this time the Italians were astounded by the fall of an extraordinary and up to then unprecedented quantity of snow[8] that killed the bulk of the wild animals and cut down trees, never to grow again. [50] In the spring following this portent, after buying arms in Campania, Melus led the Normans bravely in the invasion of Apulia. He was the first leader of the Norman race in Italy. All Apulia trembled before the Gauls, whose cruelty caused the deaths of many.


[1] Apulia or the theme of Longobardia was established in 882-3. It was reunited with the theme of Calabria in 975 under the title of the catepanate of Italy.

[2] Monte Gargano was already a centre of pilgrimage for the Normans before 1000 either on the way to or the return from Jerusalem; its proximity to the ports of Bari and Brindisi (both were used for crossing the Adriatic Sea to Greece and the land route to Palestine) made access relatively easy. The earliest expressions of a Michaeline cult are found in the ancient Near East. The migration of Michael’s cult was from from East to West and there were three centres of Michaeline devotion: in western Asia Minor, southern Italy, and in northern Gaul. Special attention is devoted to Italy since the foundation legend of the centre at Monte Gargano had a significant impact on Anglo-Saxon devotion to Michael. In at least two of these regions (the Near East and Italy) the Archangel took over an existing cultic site and assumed some of the healing characteristics associated with the site. After a series of apparitions and earthly interventions, each of the three great regional powers, Constantine’s empire, the Lombards, and the Carolingians, adapted and adopted St. Michael, Commander of the Heavenly Host in battle, as the patron saint of its imperial ambition.

[3] Well known is the apparition of St. Michael in 494 or 530-540 at his sanctuary on Monte Gargano, where his original glory as patron in war was restored to him. The Lombards of Sipontum attributed his intercession for their victory over the Greek Neapolitans on 8th May 663. In commemoration of this victory the church of Sipontum instituted a special feast in honour of the archangel, on 8th May, which has spread over the entire Latin Church and is now called ‘Apparitio S. Michaelis’, although it originally did not commemorate the apparition, but the victory. In Normandy, St. Michael is the patron of mariners in the sanctuary at Mont-Saint-Michel in the diocese of Coutances. He is said to have appeared there, in 708, to St. Aubert, Bishop of Avranches. In Normandy his feast ‘S. Michaelis in periculo maris’ or ‘in Monte Tumba’ was universally celebrated on 18th October the anniversary of the dedication of the first church in 710. Martin, J.-M., ‘La culte de saint Michel en Italie mérodionale d’ après les actes de practique’ in Carletti, C. and Otranto, G., (eds.), Culto e insediamenti michaelici nell’Italia meridionale fra tarda antichita e medioevo, Bari, 1994, pp. 375-404 is especially useful on this subject.

[4] The precise chronology here is difficult but is likely to be between 1012 and 1017. Melus first rebelled against the Byzantine Empire in 1009 and sought refuge successively in Ascoli, Benevento and Capua.

[5] The notion of an invitation to come to Italy plays an important part in the alternative explanations for the Norman presence in the south and is relatively common in other traditions; for example, the British inviting the Anglo-Saxons to come to Britain in Gildas De Excidio Britonum, see Winterbottom, Michael, (ed.), Gildas The Ruin of Britain and other works, Phillimore, 1978, pp. 25-27. Amatus of Montecassino identified a group of Norman pilgrims who delivered Salerno from a Muslim siege around 1000 and who were invited by prince Guaimar III of Salerno to remain in Italy. William of Apulia identified the initial meeting with Melus after which the Norman pilgrims returned to Normandy only to come back to Italy later to support Melus in his rebellion in 1016-1017. The third tradition has a group of Normans, exiled by Duke Richard II coming to Rome and being used by Pope Benedict VIII, in alliance with some Lombard princes to attack the Greeks in the mid-1020s: Radulfus Glaber Opera, edited by J. France, N. Bulst and P. Reynolds, Oxford Medieval Texts, Oxford, 1989, pp. 96-101 and Arnoux, M., (ed.), Raoul Glaber, Histoires, III, 3, Brepols, 1996, pp. 145-147. Glaber’s suggestion that the pope was the instigator of or at least party to, the attack on Apulia in 1017 is supported by the near contemporary French chronicler Adehemar de Chabannes: Chronicon, edited by J. Chavanon, Paris, 1897, pp. 178 and Pon, Georges, (ed.), Ademar de Chabannes: Chronique, III, 58, Brepols, 2003, pp. 269-270. Hoffmann, Hartmut, ‘Die Anfange der Normannen in Unteritalien’, Quellen und Fortschungen aus italienischen Archiven und Bibliotheken, vol. xlix, (1969), pp. 95-144 remains the best study but there are also papers in English: France, J., ‘The Occasion of the Coming of the Normans to Southern Italy’, Journal of Medieval History, vol. xvii, (1991), pp. 185-205 and Joranson, E., ‘The inception of the career of the Normans in Italy’, Speculum, vol. xxiii, (1948), pp. 353-396 consider the arguments for the chronology of the ‘adventus normannorum’.

[6] Arnulf of Milan, The Book of Recent Deeds, translated from the edition of Zey, Claudia, MGH Scriptores Rerum Germanicarum vol. 67, Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1994, Book 1:17 stated: ‘It was in those days that the first of the Normans came into Apulia, after they had been summoned on the advice of the princes of the land, when the Greeks were weighing heavy upon the region with innumerable acts of oppression. When the Greeks had been subdued and put to flight upon the furrowed sea, the Normans — although few — invaded part of the province, after considering the inertia of the Apulians and the region’s richness in all things. Legates were sent back home to encourage others to do this and, as their numbers grew little by little, they eventually filled the entire province of Apulia, took possession of it as if by right of ownership (iure proprio) and became crueler than the Greeks and more ferocious than the Saracens. Indeed, after all the former princes had been cast down, they rose up as princes themselves.’

[7] This suggests important reasons why the Normans were attracted by southern Italy. First, the fertility of Apulia and its wealth are identified; and, secondly, the cowardice of the Apulians and the possibility of an easy victory over them. The passage also provides good reasons for leaving Normandy itself especially land hunger.

[8] Both the Bari and Benevento annals dated this climatic disaster to 1009 not 1016-1017.

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