Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book I, lines 350-575

[350] Exaugustus addressed the troops who had been entrusted to him as follows: ‘Men, have pride in your manhood, and don’t allow yourselves to have the hearts of women! What cowardice makes you always run away? Remember your forefathers whose courage made the whole world subject to them. Hector, the bravest of men, fell before the arms of Achilles. Troy was reduced to flames by the Mycenean fury. India knew of the gallantry of Philip. Did not his son Alexander through his bravery make the strongest of kingdoms submit to the Greeks? [360] The west and indeed every part of the world were once in fear of us. What people, hearing the name of the Greeks, dared to stand before them in the field? Towns, fortresses and cities could scarcely render their enemies safe from their power. Be valiant, I pray you, remember the courage of your ancestors, and don’t disgrace them by placing your trust in your feet [alone]! He who dares to fight like a man will overcome the strength of the enemy. Try to follow in the footsteps of your [370] ancestors, and abandon now any idea of flight. The entire world should know that you are men of courage. One should not fear the Frankish people in battle, for they are inferior both in numbers and in courage’.

With these words he kindled the Greeks’ spirits, ordering them to march down from the mountains and pitch their camp in the plain. After they had done this the Gauls sent out scouts to see what the Greeks were doing. They reported that they were ready for battle, but that while the general had changed the people had not; [so] they feared nothing. The Greeks had left many allies in the mountains, to the safety of which they [380] could return if it should be necessary. These natives came down to help them. The two peoples encountered each other in the plain. There was then heavy fighting. Both strove to be the victors. First one, then the other, fled and then forced the enemy to flee. After the Gauls had resisted for a long time, the Greeks made a fierce attack and had come close to victory, when Gautier[1] rushed forward into the midst of the enemy, [390] encouraging the retreating Normans to return to the fight. He was one of the counts who had been elected, the son of a distinguished man, Amicus. The Greeks had certainly never suffered heavier losses, most of their soldiers were killed and many nobles perished as well. The wretched Exaugustus was led in chains to Atenulf’s city, walking before the victor’s horse, since his enemy wanted to highlight the scale of his triumph.

This was the third victory in a year secured by the Gauls.[2] The Greeks were routed and had no further hope of victory. All the fortified towns of Apulia, Bari (the most important), [400] Monopoli, Giovenazzo and several other cities abandoned their alliance with the Greeks and came to an agreement with the Franks.

God being unwilling that he should reign longer, Michael now died, and was succeeded by his nephew Michael, who was also called by the name Constantine.[3] He sent one Sidonianos[4] to bring help to the people of Apulia. The latter arrived and disembarked at Otranto, from where he sent envoys to those cities which had allied with the Franks, [410] asking them to receive him. They refused to agree to this. He sought to rebuild his army, but many of the soldiers had been killed or fled and he was able to raise only a few. Because of this Sinodianos remained within the city walls. He was then recalled on the emperor’s orders.

At this time the Norman race received many promises from Prince Guaimar of Salerno and [some of them] abandoned the service of Atenulf. But only the inhabitants of Aversa recognised Guaimar’s authority; [420] those who held land in Apulia preferred to serve Argyrus[5], the son of Melus, for his father had been the first to lead the Gauls in Italy and had there rewarded them. Initially Argyrus, who was brave and generous but poor, refused to lead so great a race since he had neither silver nor gold to give them. They, however, declared that it was not gold that they loved but him, since his father had been their patron. He gave way to the people’s request; one night he brought the oldest and wisest among them to Bari and took them to the church of [430] St. Apollinaris, and he spoke to them as follows: ‘Since I have no money with which to reward you, I am surprised that so great a people as yours should wish to have me lead them, for I know that you are lacking in all sorts of things which I cannot give you, and I am unhappy because I cannot provide them’. They replied to him: ‘If you should be our prince, then none of us will be poor or in need. With your leadership fortune will favour us and you as our prince will guide us in the ways of good counsel, as we were accustomed to be guided by your father’. After saying this they immediately and [440] unanimously raised him on high and with one voice made him their prince.

Meanwhile Maniakes[6], a man full of wickedness ordered by Michael to take command in Italy, arrived at Otranto accompanied by a large army of Greeks. Nothing in him was worthy of praise except for his handsome appearance. He was proud of mind and brimming with terrifying cruelty. He left his fleet at Otranto and encouraged his evil army to attack the towns that had made agreements with the Franks. His forces first invaded the Monopoli district. Maniakes had many people executed, having some hanged from trees, and [450] others beheaded. The tyrant [even] dared to commit a hitherto unheard of crime; he buried captured infants alive, leaving only their heads above ground. Many perished like this, and he spared no one. After this, Maniakes marched on Matera, which was the site, so it was said, of the camp of the Punic general Hannibal, when he made Italy subject to the Africans. Maniakes in his anger murdered two hundred peasants who had been captured in the fields there. Neither boy nor old man, [460] monk nor priest, was safe; this wicked man gave mercy to none.[7]

Meanwhile Michael, who had sent out Maniakes, was arrested, blinded and dethroned on the orders of the sisters Zoe and Theodora. The former had been the wife of Michael’s uncle, whom he had succeeded. As he had refused to share the empire with her and intended to disinherit her despite the Senate’s opposition, he was seized and deprived of the light [of his eyes]. Zoe then married Constantine Monomarkos[8]. Maniakes was an [470] enemy to him, and he to Maniakes, because one had violated the other’s mistress.[9] The accession of the jealous Monomarkos to the imperial throne filled the tyrant’s mind with terror. Remembering the outrage he was carried away by his hatred and rage. He ordered the Greeks under his command not to obey Monomarkos but to make him their prince. The traitor took the imperial dress for himself and did not hesitate to usurp the sacred name of emperor.[10]

After Monomarkos had received the imperial title, he ordered that Argyrus should attempt to win over the [480] Gauls and do his best to make them obedient to himself. He promised that they would be given huge rewards. Not wanting to lose the emperor’s favour, Argyrus led the Normans away from the siege of Trani[11], the only town that supported the Greeks’ cause and stopped them ravaging the surrounding area. Meanwhile an imperial emissary had arrived, bringing with him rich gifts.[12] This unfortunate man was captured by Maniakes, who inflicted various tortures upon him and then had his [490] nose, ears and mouth stuffed with horse dung, and thus had him put horribly to death in a stable. Once Maniakes saw the amount of gold that he now had in his possession, he became very bold indeed. He returned to Taranto, and distributed much of the gold to the Greeks to ensure their loyalty to him still further. He assumed the imperial purple, and clad his right foot in the red leather that is the sole prerogative of those who rule the empire. Then he came to Bari, accompanied by a large army, hoping to [500] persuade Argyrus with promises to join him in his revolt against Monormarkos. He also tried to come to an agreement with the Gauls, hoping that with their help his forces would be enough to defeat his enemy, and that he would easily be able to seize Constantine’s crown and keep it for himself. His hope was in vain, for he was unable to influence either the Normans or their leader and on their refusal he retired. Full of anger at being thus repulsed, he divided his troops into four groups and sent them out to pillage. They spread out over the land, and brought back a large number of both men and of animals to [510] Taranto.

At this time, Argyrus gave the Normans many talents of gold and silver that he had been sent by Constantine, requesting their assistance, that with their help he might destroy Maniakes, the enemy of the sacred empire. He promised them great rewards for their loyalty once the enemy had been conquered. However, what rendered most of the Normans hostile to Maniakes was not the prospect of gain but their love for their leader Argyrus. The counts from [520] Aversa also came to join him with many of their men. Of these the man of whom they hoped most was William, son of Tancred, a most skilled warrior, and along with him there was Radulfus Trincanocte, who became count of the city after the death of Rainulf. William’s great reputation terrified the Greeks; for his mighty bravery and strength had led him to be called ‘the Iron Arm’. He was the brother of Robert, who later became duke, known as Guiscard, the cunning. With such mighty counts in his company [530] Argyrus hastened to meet the enemy. Maniakes had at this time advanced to the River Tara and pitched his camp there. But, hearing of the arrival of this great army which he could not resist, he took refuge in Taranto. The Gauls reached the river and found the Greek camp deserted. They advanced as far as a bridge which crossed the water to the other side. [540] However, the route across the bridge that led to the city was overlooked by high cliffs and although the distance there would have seemed short to a traveller, it appeared long to those who had to go round along the coast. For Taranto is almost entirely surrounded by sea and would indeed very nearly be an island if there was not a little hill opposite it.

William challenged the Greeks who were hiding behind their walls to battle. But they kept their forces safe and never went out from their defences. A river in flood could not inspire greater fear in anyone than the lance of this mighty chief. It was as if a snake charmer eager to catch an asp was trying in every conceivable way to make him rise up from the bowels of the earth in which he dwelt safely hidden. But the [550] snake blocks one ear with his tail and presses the other to the ground, that he might hear nothing. [So it was that] the Greeks refused to hear the Gauls summoning them to battle and remained in the city behind closed doors.

Once the Gauls saw that the Greeks refused to come out and fight [560] and that there was no real hope of capturing the city since it was so strongly sited, they withdrew. Maniakes remained in the town for a little while and then went once again to Otranto. On the emperor’s orders, Argyrus and Theodorokanos [13] set out once more to attack him[14], the former with a substantial army and the latter with a large fleet. Their enemy’s resolution was shaken by a number of fears; his mind fluctuated irresolutely between one plan and another. Finally he was forced in his fear to leave the city and placed his camp in a position hidden among the steep crags overlooking the sea, which was inaccessible by land. He had his ships tied in rows to these rocks. To calm the sea which he was to cross, he had some [570] witches, who were believed to have stirred up the waves, burned. Then, without waiting for the rolling waves to calm down, he took ship and set sail. However, this voyage brought no profit to this wretched man. He was attacked by the armies of Monomarkos, defeated and killed, thus paying for his crimes with his life.


[1] Gautier (Walter), son of Amicus had received Civitate when land had been divided up at Melfi earlier in the year. Geoffrey Malaterra attributes this action of William Iron-Arm. William of Apulia sems to have had a particular interest in the ‘sons of Amicus’, mentioning the family on several occasions especially as rivals of Robert Guiscard in the 1060s and 1070s.

[2] The campaign began again in September 1041 with the Normans routing a Byzantine army near Montepeloso (modern-day Irsina) on the River Bradano and capturing the catepan. He was first taken to Melfi and then to Benevento by Adenulf, who freed him without ransom. It was this that led to the rift between the Normans and Adenulf at the beginning of 1042.

[3] Constantine VIII reigned from 1025 until 1028) and his daughters, Eudokia (a nun), Zoe, and Theodora (who became a nun), were the last members of the Macedonian house. Zoe (born c. 978-980) married successively Romanos III Argyros (1028-1034) and Michael IV the Paphlagonian (1034-1041), then adopted the latter’s nephew, Michael V Calaphates (‘the Calker’ 1041-1042). When he attempted to force Zoe into a convent, the mob overthrew him and brought Theodora from her nunnery. He was dethroned after a brief reign of four months, blinded and relegated to a monastery. His unpopularity seems largely due to his attempts at administrative reforms that were strongly resented by the dominant classes. Zoe and Theodora briefly held joint sovereignty (April-June 1042). Zoe then married Constantine IX Monomachos (1042-1055), during whose reign she died (c. 1050).

[4] Basil Sidonianos was strategus of Durazzo in 1040 and campaigned against Peter Deljan, the chief rebel of the Bulgars. Accused of tyranny, he was removed from his command.

[5] Argyrus was sent to Constantinople after the first rebellion of his father, probably on 1010-1011 and did not return to Bari probably until 1029. His role in the problems that developed in Apulia in the late 1030s is interpreted in different ways. Some historians, especially Chalandon suggest that he was already at the head of the rebellion in 1040 while others argue that initially he acted as a Byzantine administrator against the Normans.

[6] George Maniakes first became prominent during a campaign in 1031, when the Byzantines were defeated at Aleppo but went on to capture Edessa from the Seljuk Turks the following year. His greatest achievement was the partial re-conquest of Sicily from the Arabs beginning in 1037. Although the Arabs soon took the island back, Maniakes’ successes there later inspired other Normans to invade Sicily themselves.

[7] The death of the Emperor Michael IV in December and the accession of his nephew Michael V led to the return to favour of George Maniakes who returned to mainland Italy with orders to crush the Lombard rebellion in Apulia. The former prince of Capua, Pandulf IV was allowed to return to Italy presumably to destabilise the Lombard principalities. Maniakes arrived at Taranto in April 1042 regaining the towns that had thrown off Byzantine rule with some brutality but refused a pitched battle with Argyrus and the Normans.

[8] Constantine IX Monomarkos (c. 1000-1054) reigned as Byzantine emperor from 1042-1054. He had been chosen by Zoë as a husband and co-emperor in 1042, although he had been exiled for conspiring against her previous husband Michael IV. They ruled together until Zoë died in 1050. In 1043, he relieved George Maniakes from his command in Italy, and Maniakes declared himself emperor. His troops were about to defeat Constantine in battle, but he was wounded and died on the field, ending the crisis. Immediately after the victory, Constantine was attacked by a fleet from the Kievan Rus that had probably been hired by Maniakes. They too were defeated, with the help of Greek fire. In 1046, the Byzantines came into contact for the first time with the Seljuks. They met in battle in Armenia in 1048 and settled a truce the following year. However, Constantine was forced to disband the Armenian troops for financial reasons in 1053, leaving the eastern frontier poorly defended. In 1054, the centuries-old differences between the Greek and Roman churches led to their final separation. Legates from Pope Leo IX excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerularius when Cerularius would not agree to adopt western church practices and in return Cerularius excommunicated the legates. This ended Constantine’s attempts to ally with the Pope against the Normans. Constantine tried to intervene, but he fell ill and died later that year. Theodora, the elderly daughter of Constantine VIII who had previously ruled briefly with her sister Zoë, was recalled and named empress.

[9] Byzantine sources suggest that it was the rape of Maniakes’ wife by Romanus Skleros, a favourite of Constantine Monomarchus and brother of his mistress and Constantine’s failure to act against Romanus that led to the hostility between them.

[10] This placed Maniakes in a difficult position as he was disliked by the new emperor Constantine IX. Maniakes soon after declared himself emperor and began preparations for an expedition to Constantinople. This took place in early 1043 but was short-lived and Maniakes was killed soon after he landed in the Balkans. Michael Psellus, the contemporary Byzantine historian maintained that Maniakes was the victim of the emperor’s jealousy and his ingratitude and that Constantine IX was largely responsible for the revolt.

[11] The siege of Trani by Argyrus and the Normans began in the second week of July 1042. In August 1042, Argyrus was bribed to return to the imperial side and he abandoned his Norman allies and retired to Bari. Argyrus’ decision may also have been motivated by a realisation that the Normans were potentially more of a threat to the coastal towns than were the Byzantines. The emperor was prepared to give these towns a considerable degree of autonomy and consequently especially Bari and Brindisi remained attached to Byzantium and opposed to the Normans. This did not, however, prevent Argyrus from seeking Norman assistance against Maniakes and their willingness to support him suggests that the mercenary spirit was not entirely dead.

[12] The imperial embassy arrived at Otranto in September 1042 and consisted of Pardos, who may have come to relieve Maniakes of his command and the protospatherius Toubakis and Archbishop Nicholas. Maniakes immediately killed Pardos and imprisoned Toubakis whom he killed the following month.

[13] There were two Theodorokanos, Basil and Constantine. It is likely that it was Constantine since Basil, a friend of Maniakes was imprisoned at this time.

[14] The Lupus Protospatharius dated this to February 1043.

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