Wednesday, 21 October 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book I, lines 170-250

[170] Some years later, the army of the Gauls[1], secure in Rainulf’s[2] leadership, founded the city of Aversa. This was in a most suitable spot, rich and fertile, lacking neither crops nor fruits, nor meadows nor woods. There was nowhere in this world more pleasant. This noble leader chose most wisely. From this distinguished kin came Richard[3], who later succeeded him, than whom nobody was braver or more generous. He had a son Jordan, who was no less gallant than he, who had [as his son] Richard. This last, though now only a young man, already shows courage worthy of an adult.[4]

[180] After surrounding Aversa with walls, Rainulf sent envoys back to his homeland to recruit Normans to come there.[5] These envoys recounted how delightful and fertile Apulia was, promising wealth to the poor, and to the rich that their wealth would be still further enhanced. Hearing this, both poor and rich flocked there, the poor man that he might relieve his poverty through plunder, the rich seeking to become richer still. [190] Meanwhile, a long time had elapsed since the Catepan Basil had defeated Melus, the empire’s enemy and forced the Normans to retire.[6] The Gauls no longer inspired fear throughout Italy. Suddenly a north Italian [Lambardus, sic] called Arduin came to Aversa, there recruited many men and spread terror to all in Apulia, from which he wished to drive out the Greeks. I shall explain why he hated them and why he led the Gauls. While Michael the Epileptic[7] held the imperial throne, he ordered troops to be sent against its Sicilian[8] enemies who were continuously raiding the coasts of Calabria. [200] He sent Michael Dokianos to lead this expedition, and the latter, after raising a large force of cavalry and infantry from all sorts of different places, defeated these Sicilian enemies[9]. Among the men enrolled was Arduin[10], whose followers were partly Lombards[11], as well as Gauls who had survived the defeat by the Greeks and who had fled from the battle against Basil. Returning after his triumph over the enemy, Dokianos had distributed the booty to his Greek troops at the city of Reggio, [210] but Arduin had received nothing and the poor man had remained unrewarded. He angrily summoned his men and denounced the Greeks for their sordid greed, who gave to cowards the booty due to men, since the Greeks were like women. Michael[12] was angry at these insults and ordered Arduin to be stripped and flogged, as is the custom of the Greeks, to shame by this punishment the man who has been flogged for committing such a crime. Furious at the indignity of this treatment, and determined not to leave the wrong that had been done him unrevenged, Arduin and his men left the camp of the Greeks in secret. [220] A band of Greeks sent in pursuit caught up with him in open country, but when they engaged in battle the Greeks were defeated and fifty of them killed.

He hurried[13] to Aversa and told the Normans all that had happened to him, blaming them sternly for permitting the effeminate Greeks to possess a land as valuable in so many ways as Apulia, when the latter were a cowardly race lost in drunken depravity, who often fled before a handful of enemies and even whose dress, he claimed, was unsuitable for battle. [230] Although they had previously been forced to leave Apulia because of the valour of the Greeks, with this encouragement the Normans were now prepared to return there once again, with larger and more powerful forces. They all met together and chose twelve noblemen distinguished by their descent, good character and age as their leaders. The others raised these to the rank of count: the name ‘count’ was given to them. They divided all the lands everywhere among themselves [which would be theirs] unless ill fortune prevent them, proposing which places should belong to which leader and to whom tribute should be rendered. [240] After settling this they hurried to do battle.

There was at this time no imperial army in Italy, for all was quiet among the Greeks, and at this time of peace the only war spoken about was that against the Sicilians.[14] The Normans entered Apulia and Melfi was swiftly captured.[15] Whoever secured some booty brought it to that city. Basil, whom I mentioned above, had realised that this was a place of unusual strength and had constructed [250] some modest buildings there. With people coming in to settle, it is now a notable city, very well-known in Italy and rich in a fertile and pleasant countryside, lacking neither wheat nor water. It belongs to the ducal honour of the region in which it is sited.


[1] Having served various lords for ten years, for which there is little evidence Rainulf Drengot was enlisted by the duke of Naples, Sergius IV, himself forced to flee by the Lombard prince of Capua, Pandulf IV in 1027. Back on his throne in 1030, the duke of Naples granted the title of ‘count’ to Rainulf, the town of Aversa and its lands, the important strategic centre of Liburia, and the rich Terra del Lavarro (a vast plain between Naples and Caserta). Rainulf Drengot also married the duke of Naples’ daughter in 1028. Thus, the Normans, by a complex game of opportunity and alliances succeeded in a few years to reinforce his position and establish his county in Aversa. This settlement was the first real base that the Normans possessed in southern Italy that was under their control.

[2] Many people had been expelled from their land in Normandy, a frequent event at this time of ducal justice at the beginning of the 11th century. After declaring them outlaws, the duke got rid of these lords, such as Osmond Drengot who fled around 1017 with his brothers, Gilbert Buatère, Osmond, Asketil, Raoul and Rianulf after committing a crime of honour. Gilbert Buatère was killed at Canne in 1018.

[3] Richard I was Count of Aversa from 1049 and prince of Capua from 1058. Aversa became a principality in 1062.

[4] Jordan I was prince of Aversa between 1078 and 1090 and was succeeded by his son Richard II (1090-1106). This sentence provides some evidence for dating the Gesta to 1092-1093.

[5] After taking control of Aversa in 1030, Rainulf Drengot accelerated the process of immigration from Normandy, a necessary step to maintain order and govern a population judged unreliable. He integrated easily into the local political order of southern Italy yet did not hesitate to change sides if that served his interests. Thus, when his wife died in 1034, he rebuffed his brother-in-law and protector, the duke of Naples, by marrying another Lombard princess, Pandulf IV of Capua’s niece, the daughter of the duke of Amalfi. From this alliance, Rainulf of Aversa gained territory taken from the possessions of the abbey of Montecassino. Soon after, in 1039, he was on the side of Guaimar IV of Salerno, supported by the troops of the German Empire led by Emperor Conrad II. Rainulf of Aversa defeated Pandulf of Capua, annexed his land, and with the approval of Conrad II, reunited the two principalities under one crown, thereby becoming the ruler of the largest political entity in Mezzogiorno. Thereafter, the county of Aversa, the first long-lasting Norman principality in southern Italy, rapidly became a real force that could only be rivalled by that other great Norman dynasty, the Hautevilles.

[6] In 1038, the situation in southern Italy was transformed by two events: the expedition to southern Italy by the emperor Conrad II and renewed attempts by the Byzantines to reconqueror Sicily. Both were to have profound consequences. Conrad II wished to reassert his control over the Lombard principalities but his expedition appears to have been in response to complaints about the activities of Pandulf IV. Pandulf sought to limit the damage by offering Conrad hostages and paying a substantial tribute and it was not until he failed to fulfil his promises that Conrad acted against him. In May 1038, he invested Guaimar IV of Salerno with the principality of Capua. Pandulf sought aid from the Byzantine court at Constantinople but was disappointed and remained in exile for two years. Guaimar rapidly extended his authority over the neighbouring city states: he took over Amalfi in April 1039 and Sorrento four months later. In 1040, he briefly controlled Gaeta. Count Rainulf certainly aided Guaimar in his annexation of Sorrento but the latter’s success cannot be entirely put down to Norman military aid: there were internal disputes in the ruling families in both Amalfi and Sorrento. Guaimar’s control over the Normans appears to have been limited. When Richer, the new imperial-appointed abbot of Montecassino complained to Guaimar about Norman attacks on the abbey’s lands, he was advised to seek aid from the emperor.

[7] Michael IV, the Paphlagonian, meaning ‘from the province of Paphlagonia’ (in Anatolia) was Byzantine emperor from April 11th 1034 to December 10th 1041. He owed his elevation to Empress Zoë, daughter of Constantine VIII and wife of Romanus III, who became enamoured with Michael, her chamberlain, poisoned her husband and immediately married her attendant, both in 1034. Michael, however, being of a weak character and subject to epileptic fits, left the government in the hands of his brother, John the Eunuch, who had been first minister of Constantine and Romanus. John’s reforms of the army and financial system revived temporarily the military strength of the Empire. On the eastern frontier, the important city of Edessa was relieved after a prolonged siege. The western Muslims were almost driven out of Sicily by George Maniakes between 1038 and 1040 but after his recall most of the Sicilian conquests were lost in 1041. In the north, the Serbs successfully revolted in 1040, but a dangerous rising by the Bulgarians and Slavs that threatened the cities of Thrace and Macedonia was repressed in a successful campaign that the decrepit emperor undertook in person shortly before his death on December 10th 1041.

[8] In the late summer of 1038, Michael IV organised an expedition against the Saracens of Sicily, who were divided and weakened by dynastic quarrels. It was led by George Maniakes who appealed to the Italians, who were on good terms with the emperor. Guaimar IV of Salerno sent a contingent of three hundred Normans including William Iron-Arm and his brother Drogo de Hauteville. Its task was to reinforce the imperial army, and also to get rid of mercenaries, always a possibly dangerous nuisance during periods of peace. In the battle, the Normans of Italy encountered Scandinavian warriors from the Byzantine imperial guard, the Varangian guard led by Harold Hardrada, later king of Norway in 1047 and rival of Harold of England and William of Normandy in 1066. Other Norman adventurers such as Roussel de Bailleul were part of the expeditionary corps around Reggio in Calabria before the embarkation. The expedition lasted more than two years. Messina was taken in autumn 1038; victorious campaigns followed in the north, west and centre of the island. The audacious reputation of the Normans was maintained. But they remained simple mercenaries. The relations with their superiors deteriorated after the recall of George Maniakes and unhappy with their pay and spoils, the Normans and the Varangians abandoned the Greek army in 1040. The Byzantines were forced to retreat and soon only Messina was left under their control.

[9] Two great battles marked Maniakes’ campaign. Abu Abdallah al-Husayn, the Muslim leader was twice defeated, once at Rametta, once at Troina, his troops scattered by charges of the Greek troops in which William Tancredson gained his name of ‘Iron Arm’ for his courage and strength. But quarrels broke out between the commander and his troops; the Normans and Norsemen, dissatisfied over the question of pay and plunder, went back to Apulia, and Maniakes’ recall left Sicily to the Muslims again.  Their acquaintance with the Greeks gave the Normans little respect for their military qualities.

[10] Arduin had probably taken part in the aristocratic rebellion against the archbishop of Milan in 1035. Although William of Apulia said that Arduin led the Norman contingent, both Amatus of Montecassino and Geoffrey Malaterra said that he acted as a translator or intermediary between the Normans and the Greeks. Arnulf of Milan, The Book of Recent Deeds, translated from the edition of ibid, Zey, Claudia, MGH Scriptores Rerum Germanicarum, vol. 67, Book II, 9-19 deals with events in Milan in the 1030s though Arduin is not mentioned by name.

[11] The presence of Lombards from northern Italy as well as Normans in Sicily is only mentioned by William of Apulia. However, John Skylitzes a Byzantine historian stated that after the defeat of the Greeks near Canne in 1042 was achieved by Normans and Italians from the Pô and Piedmont regions.

[12] Only William of Apulia and the Greek sources blamed Michael Dokianos for the breakdown of relations between the Greeks and the Normans. The other Latin sources held George Maniakes responsible.

[13] Geoffrey Malaterra said that the Normans who had gone to Sicily accompanied Arduin to Apulia.

[14] The rebels took advantage of the death of the catepan Nikephorus Dokeianos, who had died at Ascoli in January 1040 and the leaderless province, was then affected by a revolt in the Taranto region in May.

[15] The Normans occupied Melfi in March 1041 according to the Annales of Lupus Protospatharius.

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