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.

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