Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book I, lines 56-105

Rumour of the coming of the fiercesome Gauls, led by Melus, came at length to the ears of Tornikios, who [60] was the Catepan of the Greeks, sent from the city to which its founder Constantine had given his name that was then ruled jointly by Basil[1] and Constantine[2]. In his rebellion against these two, Melus advised the Normans to ravage Apulia.[3] When news of this was recounted to him Tornikios hastened to send Greek troops against the enemy. In the first battle he did not indeed lead them himself, but rather appointed as his lieutenant a man named Leo Pakianos, who led a large Greek force to a place called Arenula on the banks of the River Fortore. [70] This was during the month of May, a season most suitable for making war, and in which kings are accustomed to march to battle. The first encounter gave neither side the victory. Tornikios brought fresh troops to join his subordinates, but then was defeated, turned tail and fled. In this battle[4] Pakianos was killed. This victory greatly encouraged the Normans, for they realised that the Greeks lacked bravery and preferred flight to resistance.

[80] News came to the rulers of the empire that the Normans, with Melus as their leader, were ravaging Apulia. On hearing this, the court adjudged him to be an outlaw and ordered that on capture he should be beheaded. The next year Basil, called Boiannes[5], was appointed Catepan, and sent out with a strong force of Greeks. He was a man valiant in war. We think that Catepan means, in Greek, ‘before all’. Whoever holds that office among the Greeks acts as the people’s governor, [90] arranging everything and dealing ‘before all’ with each person as they deserve.

The two sides met in battle near Canne, where the River Ofanto flows, towards the beginning of October. Melus, with only a small force, could not prevail and fled, losing most of his men[6]. After this defeat, he was ashamed to remain in his native land; he went to the Samnite territory and stayed there for a time. After this he sought the help of King Henry of the Germans.[7] The latter received his plea with his accustomed kindness, promising to give him speedy help. [100] But Melus died unexpectedly and thus could not return. [8] King Henry buried him in a manner fit for a king, he followed the funeral procession to the graveside and had his tomb decorated with a royal epitaph.


[1] Basil II (976-1025). For Byzantine and modern historians alike the reign of Basil II marks the apogee of the Middle Byzantine Empire. Between 976 and 1025, Byzantine territorial and cultural frontiers expanded considerably. Bulgaria was annexed in 1018. In the east, Basil also absorbed the Georgian princedom of Tao and the Armenian state of Vaspurakan. Towards the end of his reign, Byzantine forces became more active in southern Italy, consolidating and expanding Byzantine authority in the face of a variety of powers including the Ottonian emperors of Germany. At the time of his death, the emperor was planning to invade Muslim Sicily. For a comprehensive narrative of the reign, see Schlumberger, G., L’Épopée byzantine à la fin du dixième siècle, three vols. Paris, 1896-1905, vol. i, pp. 327-777 and vol. ii; see also Ostrogorsky, G., History of the Byzantine State, translated by J. Hussey, 3rd edition, Oxford, 1968, pp. 298-315; Treadgold, W., A History of the Byzantine State and Society, Stanford, California, 1997, pp. 513-533; and, Whittow, M., The Making of Orthodox Byzantium, Oxford, 1996, pp. 358-390. Holmes, Catherine, Basil II and the Governance of Empire (976-1025), (Oxford University Press), 2005 considers the problems Basil faced in governing a large, multi-ethnic empire that stretched from southern Italy to Mesopotamia.

[2] There were other signs that the end of Basil’s reign was characterised by worries about who was going to succeed when the emperor died. According to the Armenian historian Aristakes Lastivert, so great was the uncertainty that the emperor went on parade through the city of Constantinople to reassure the citizens that he was still alive. One obvious reason for such uncertainty was the fact that Basil had no heir except his brother Constantine, who himself had three unmarried, childless, and middle-aged daughters. More important, few of Basil’s senior advisors wanted Constantine to become emperor (1025-1028). They even discouraged Basil from summoning Constantine to the imperial palace when he was on his deathbed.  The extent to which Constantine played an active role in imperial governance during Basil’s reign is unclear. Psellus suggests that he was removed from power at some point in the first half of Basil’s reign.  Modern historians, however, sometimes suggest that Constantine may have exercised considerable authority particularly in Constantinople and the imperial palace. My own view is that Constantine had rarely fulfilled more than a ceremonial role. He certainly did not control the palace at the end of Basil’s reign.

[3] The attack on Apulia began in May 1017 with the invasion of the Capitanata, the area where Byzantine rule was least firmly established. The initial engagements were won by Melus and his supporters but, in contrast to the earlier rebellion in 1009, the Byzantines kept control of the coastal towns. Both sides sought reinforcements and both Glaber and Amatus imply that a second and larger group of Normans joined the original forces.

[4] This can be dated on June 22nd according to the Lupus Protospatharius that alone recorded the battle as a Greek victory.

[5] The surviving chronicles indicate that the worst of the Arab raids in southern Italy were over after the first decade of the eleventh century. Yet, after this the Byzantines faced a new problem: internal revolt, especially the insurrection led by Melus, a rich citizen from Bari. The first mention of this revolt comes in 1009 when Melus led a local conspiracy against the catepan John Curcuas. This revolt was suppressed within a year by Curcuas’ successor Basil Mesardonites, possibly with support from a fleet led by Basil Argyrus, the strategus of Samos. Six years later, however, revolt broke out again, after Melus had built an alliance of outside supporters including the Lombard rulers (Landulf V of Capua and his brother Pandulf IV of Benevento) and a motley assortment of Norman mercenaries and pilgrims. Together they defeated a Byzantine army led by the catepan Contoleo Tornicius. In December 1017, reinforcements arrived led by a new catepan, Basil Boiannes. Melus was soon defeated.   In 1025, Boiannes took part in a campaign against Sicily and was joined by the eunuch commander Orestes, a veteran of the Bulgar campaign, who had sailed with an advance party of troops and landed in Messina. Basil II’s death, however, meant that the main expeditionary force did not set off and the mission against Sicily failed.

[6] According to Leo Marsicanus, only eighty of perhaps three hundred Normans survived the battle. They took service with the Lombard princes, the abbot of Montecassino or even with the Byzantines.

[7] The arrival of Boiannes in southern Italy is usually seen as the beginning of a more offensive Byzantine policy. Boiannes was particularly active in consolidating Byzantine authority in the Troia, the area bordering the territories of the Lombard princes to the north. A series of fortified settlements was built across northern Apulia: at Troia, Fiorento, Montecorvino, Dragonara and Civitate and garrisons were installed; further south he built a new town at Melfi on the border of Apulia and the principality of Salerno. Pandulf IV, the Lombard prince of Capua, became a Byzantine client (Boiannes also confirmed the property rights of the abbey of Montecassino in Apulia, ruled by Atenulf, his younger brother) and participated in joint Lombard-Byzantine military actions. Nonetheless, while Constantinople may have taken a greater interest in southern Italy as Basil’s reign progressed, it is important not to overstate the case. It is clear that when the region came under sustained attack, as was the case in 1021-1022 during an invasion by the German emperor Henry II, there was very little that the Byzantine senior commanders could do except wait patiently in Bari until the enemy’s alliances with local Lombard princes fell apart and concerns beyond the Alps diverted their energies northwards again. It was Byzantine success in 1017-18 that led to German intervention in 1022 since the emperors had long claimed overlordship of southern Italy. Pandulf IV of Capua was deposed and narrowly escaped execution; his brother Atenulf, the abbot of Montecassino drowned in the Adriatic as he fled to Constantinople. Pandulf IV was replaced by his cousin count Pandulf of Teano and a pro-imperial abbot, Theobald was installed at Montecassino. German military action in Apulia in the summer of 1022 stalled before the new fortress of Troina and Henry soon began his withdrawal north. Henry II died in 1024 and his successor Conrad II released Pandulf IV who, within a few years had regained control of Capua.

This period also saw the enhanced power and prestige of the Byzantine Empire in southern Italy. With the Apulian border secure, Byzantine influence stretched into the Lombard areas. Basil Boiannes provided troops to assist Pandulf IV’s siege of Capua in 1025-1026. There was a serious attempt to defuse relations with Rome. In 1025, the jurisdiction of the papacy over the ecclesiastical province of Bari was conceded followed five years later by the new bishopric of Troia. The Byzantine governors maintained strict control over the Latin churchmen in areas under their rule. This was essential as there were still some tensions in Apulia, where a Lombard population was under Greek rule and it is clear that in southern Italy as on other Byzantine frontiers during Basil’s reign, imperial authority had to adapt to local administrative practices, indigenous bureaucrats and provincial power structures. Even in the Troia, Byzantine authority was based as much on encouraging local Lombards to settle as on building new fortifications. Yet the wisdom of this outlook was soon visible. Local charters record a surge in economic activity in the Troia including the excavation of irrigation canals, the erection of mills and cultivation of vines: see Martin, J-M., ‘Une frontière artificielle: la Capitanate italienne’, Acts of the 14th International Congress 1971, Bucharest, 1974, vol. ii, pp. 379-385.

[8] Melus died at Bamberg on 23rd April 1020.

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